Perched on a barren rock, power circuits running at a relaxed pace, the powerful giant that was Lucas Valor stared beyond the limits of the known galaxy.
It was a beautiful sight. Glittering stars of all colors and shades hovered in the unknown, lighting up the silhouettes of uncharted planets. Shifting clouds of purple and green particles decorated the alien systems in a panorama of astrological awe.
As one of the Hero Factory's foremost heroes, it was Valor's sole responsibility to patrol these outer fringes and repel any incursions by hostile outsiders. After all, any untold terrors could lurk in the galaxies beyond.
Truth be told, though, it was a quiet and undemanding job -- quite a far throw from the adrenaline-packed conflicts of Valor's past. That part of his career had peaked in the deadly battle with Captain Dark Horrendous, and then he had settled into the peaceful rings of the outer systems.
He supposed he did miss his old life; the excitement, speed, and honor of knowing you were protecting the innocent citizens of the galaxy from rogues who would have them oppressed and abused. Still, he could do without the death and destruction he had witnessed. Valor's time had come and gone, and he was all too happy to step out of the spotlight. That was the place for new and fresh heroes like Preston Stormer and that experimental rookie, what was his name -- Furno?
Whatever the case, Valor had found his place.
As his visual receptors scanned the perimeters of the galaxy, however, something odd caught his attention. The Cerrazon system… He refocused his gaze.
After a few moments, he saw it once more. Something blazing through space, like a comet but following a far more direct path. He swore he saw it weave through an asteroid field before heading straight for Cerrazon.
Frowning, Valor stood to his full height of roughly 4 meters and leapt from his asteroid. His deep-space jetpack flaring into life, the giant hero hurtled towards Cerrazon, the sunlight glinting off of his armor.
Deep inside the Hero Factory of Makuhero City, two very worried figures wandered through massive corridors, walled with cells stacked high upon each other. Each and every one was empty. The robots' steps echoed through the warehouse-like area eerily.
"Our containment facility held precisely 12,351,567,449 criminally defective entities," fretted one of the figures, a bulky robot easily identifiable as the prison warden. "You're absolutely certain we had enough heroes to send one out after each one?"
"I can assure you that every villain is being hunted down by a hero armed with cuffs and determined programming," replied the squat, pear-shaped mission manager. "I'm not Mr. Zib, so I can't report to you the exact number of heroes, but there's no doubt we had more than enough to cover the breakout. We'll be reeling in villains by the dozen."
"I don't share your comforting faith, Zeta," the warden frowned. "Some of these villains are far too powerful for one hero to handle on their own. I was here when that black hole portal opened, I saw the monstrous things escaping, and I couldn't do anything more than dent one's chest armor before they batted me aside like an organic."
"Hero Factory heroes, I'll remind you, are the most capable model of robot in existence," Zeta said, though she didn't seem too convinced. "Any individual hero could take out three of the escapees with his arms' motor functions disabled."
"What if those three were, say, XPlode, Meltdown, and Drilldozer?" the warden cried. "Each of them has been the death of several heroes, and they're not even the worst criminals that escaped…"
Lucas Valor touched down on Cerrazon 8, the outermost planet in the system. It was a tiny place, only home to one tiny guard outpost crewed by the most basic model of robots. Still, he'd noticed the comet-like object pass near it, and then he'd lost sight of the flaming projectile. Possibly it had impacted the planet. It was a hero's duty to check that no one was hurt.
He jogged briskly across the barren rock, towards the imposing fortress of steel. Huge anti-spacecraft cannons stared into the unknown realms.
The doors were normally guarded by a heavy platoon of soldiers, but there were none present. That was a bad sign. Valor flashed his hero core at the scanner and dashed through the doors as they slowly slid apart.
A terrible visual was revealed. The station was perfectly intact, but cold and dead. Blanketing the ground were the bodies of the soldier drones, emptied of all life and power. The computers and radar screens were deathly black.
Valor quickly made his way to the central power generators and found them wide open, their circuits void of any power. Intriguingly, he did notice a shape singed into the machinery, something that looked roughly like a clawed hand.
There was a thunderous noise, coupled with the crackle of electricity, from outside the base. Valor rushed to the monitors, remembered they were dry of power, and punched open the wall to stare into the sky.
The blazing visitor soared from Cerrazon 8, headed elsewhere in the system. Its glow was more intense by far.
Valor readied his ice launcher and energy blade. Giving a regretful nod to the drained drones, he climbed outside and blasted off.
The fireball streaked across the Cerrazon system, gaining speed. Valor grimaced and quickened his speed, but so did his quarry. He concentrated so hard on drawing closer that he almost didn't notice when coils of searing plasma hurtled at him from the blazing projectile. Valor just barely dodged, yanking the factory for equipping him with advanced reflexes.
So this was certainly no natural phenomenon, though Valor had abandoned that theory a while before. Some malevolent force, possibly an attack drone, was within that furious ball of flame. Something of considerable size; now he could see it was about his size!
Suddenly, his audio receptors buzzed with the sound of a transmission emanating from the fireball. A dark voice trailed out of the flames:
"Give up, hero, before I reduce you to so many ashes on the wind. Burnt quaza stone smells so terrible."
Valor kept a steady course, neck and neck with the flaming entity. "This is Lucas Valor of the Hero Factory, leader of Delta 9 team," he proclaimed. "I order you to halt and surrender yourself for arrest. You have sabotaged a government military base and deactivated dozens of drones, making yourself an enemy of this galaxy."
The voice chuckled, and Valor saw a black-armored claw shifting somewhere in the flames. "You cannot compare to my power, and I have yet more to achieve. When I am done here, the galaxy will burn before my onslaught. Now begone, petty hero."
A spray of fire issued from the villain. Valor dodged it easily -- only to steer headfirst into his opponent's next attack. Flames caught him full in the face, singing through his armor. Damage reports flared into his cognitive circuitry, and then he was falling…
Lucas Valor awoke sprawled on a tiny rock that passed for Cerrazon 2's moon. He could feel the sun's heat baking the satellite, though his armor protected him from heat damage. The flames that speeding villain had unleashed, however, were another matter. Flicking through the damage reports and scanning them, Valor realized that he had been hit with fire hotter than even the furnace of Hero Factory; it was a miracle he still functioned.
Standing to his feet, Valor wasted no time in scanning the planet below for any traces of that monstrous mechanoid. Readings were negative, though as Valor was only searching for a heat signature, the planet itself could be masking it. Still, if his offense was anything to go by, the villain was probably hotter than Cerrazon's sun.
Valor glanced up at the sun. Unlike most others, it was just a ball of clear, pristine light, glowing with radiance. When the government established the various colonies here, Cerrazon's natural sun had been dying. But with the brilliant engineering help of Hero Factory, they had constructed an artificial star to take its place, thereby saving the organic inhabitants of Cerrazon 3 and 4 from a mass exodus or frigid death. It was a massive space station, miles across, and spherical in shape. In addition to the light and heat exuded from the fake star, solar panels covering its hull reflected stray starlight from other systems and added to the sun's overall output.
Suddenly, a small section of the sun went dark. Valor squinted at it, visor filtering out the glare, to see that several solar panels had been forcefully deactivated - smashed through to reveal a gaping hole into the maintenance corridors.
In that moment, Valor realized the villain's plan, and it wasn't a heartening thought. With a sense of direst urgency, he activated his jetpack and rocketed from Cerrazon 2… into the sun.
Armor staving off certain incineration, Valor touched down on the metallic surface of Cerrazon's sun. Quickly, he located the villain's entry point and leapt into the hole, into a vertical shaft descending deep into the solar sphere.
Gravity rearranged itself as he entered, and he found himself standing in a corridor that stretched on for several long meters, branching into two passages. His default action was to head left, arbitrarily, but he was dissuaded from that path by the markings on the floor: burn marks placed regularly in a line heading down to the right. They appeared to be the footprints of this burning villain.
Ice launcher primed and at the ready, Valor crept down the corridor.
As he proceeded, visual receptors filtering out an intensifying glare, he ran through memory records of past villains. It was all too possible this villain might not be native to Valor's galaxy, but he seemed to recognize the hero model and had treated him with some indication of past encounters with Valor's kind.
The villain's evident plan was similar to that of a massive, cloud-like entity once defeated by Thelonius Fox, Duece Carter, and Oscar Flint, but this blazing robot was obviously not of the same model as that abomination. Besides that relationship, Valor's memory records were a blank. This was a new observation, but he supposed it was inevitable if he was going to live reclusively in the outer rims.
Still, all was not lost if he himself couldn't remember the villain. The factory surely had records on any and all villains and monsters it had brushed with, and he could access those records with a simple transmission. Valor raised a hand to his comms helmet and activated it, requesting service to Hero Factory.
None came. There was no reply, not even static. The transmission was as quiet as deep space.
Valor grimaced. Hero Factory communications outposts were built for maximum efficiency; the only scenario in which a hero couldn't reach them was in a case of sabotage.
Wonderful. So in addition to a military outpost, the comms outposts have been destroyed. Is there some sort of villain field day out here, or could it all be the work of this flaming villain?
Suddenly, everything went dark. The circuitry lining the walls ceased its warm glow, and the light of the artificial sun dimmed. Valor could still sense it glowing, but not in this sector. Whichever planets had been basking in the sunlight would shortly be shivering in an unnatural cold. Thankfully, readings indicated this wouldn't be worse than a brisk autumn evening.
This wouldn't be a huge catastrophe for most of Cerrazon's planets, Valor knew, but Cerrazon 3 and 4 were a different case. Those planets' proximity to the sun made them a hot spot for life, and healthy populations of organics worked there happily. Naturally, they weren't too close to the sun, so Valor estimated the planets had around eight minutes before they noticed the dimming of the sun.
In the meantime, it was his job to track down this villain and apprehend him. Valor had a nasty hunch he knew what the game was now.
Quickening his pace, the armored giant rushed down the halls, not bothering to quiet his footsteps. That villain wasn't the type to run, this much he now knew.
As Valor turned a corner to the right, he nearly dashed into a wall of fire, his boots skidding to a halt just in time. Beyond the flames, he could see the ebon-armored villain sneering at him, as if challenging him to continue.
Valor wasted no time in freezing over the firewall and running forth to stare the villain in the face. He could see now a huge, bulky character armored in colors that reflected his fiery powers, a suit of gunmetal armor highlighted with crimson and orange. Two jetpacks rested on his back. Lava patterns crisscrossed his limbs and face, which was hidden behind an imposing helmet, and flames streamed from the sides of his head.
"Recognize me, hero?" sneered the villain, the electricity streaming into a red core on his chest. "You gaze upon the most potent being in this galaxy: the Fire Lord!"
Valor's expression was neutral. "First I've heard of you," he shrugged. He leveled his ice launcher at the villain. "Now surrender yourself to justice."
"I can't say I feel inclined to do so," said the Fire Lord. His claws rested on what seemed to be a hero tool, but modified severely -- its safety valves had been torn out, its wires rearranged, and an all-around more menacing look. The villain raised this blaster to meet Valor's ice launcher, heat pumping into it and ready to be released.
Valor's visual receptors flickered to the right for a moment, and Fire Lord seized his chance to strike, unleashing a barrage of lava to Valor's right. Quickly, the hero darted to the left and blasted three spheres of ice at the burning villain. Each met its mark, and frost covered the Fire Lord for a brief moment - before it evaporated into steam, revealing an unharmed villain.
"It will take more than a slight chill to bring me down," Fire Lord chuckled, and coated the floor between them in burning lava. As it began to eat through the metal, the villain laughed darkly and turned to leave.
A metallic impact met Fire Lord's audio receptors, and he turned to see Valor standing not three yards from him. Before he could react, the broad shell of his ice launcher had smashed into Fire Lord's helmet, knocking him backwards. Valor whipped out his sword and held it at the villain's chest.
After a brief moment, a short burst of fire blasted from Fire Lord's core and knocked Valor's blade aside. As the hero scrambled to retrieve the weapon, Fire Lord readied his own tool; the blaster formed two broad blades of seething lava.
Blade met blades, and the two giants dueled, clashing vibrant energy with hardening lava. Although now mostly rock, Fire Lord's weapon still carried a fire within, and as it briefly nicked Valor's shoulder, he observed the acrid smell of singed armor.
"Back off, or you burn," Fire Lord hissed.
"I don't take orders from rogue power leeches," Valor replied.
Fire Lord snarled, bringing his lava blades down in a crushing blow that Valor just barely parried with his ice launcher. The force of the blow shattered the rocky crust, and lava sprayed into the hero's chest and head. His helmet and armor protected his cognitive circuitry and core from harm, but several layers of metal were melted to slag and dripped away. Valor staggered back, shielding himself with his ice launcher while he assessed the damage.
"Take that as a warning," Fire Lord growled. Then he was gone, darting down the corridor to deeper inside the sun.
Valor patched up the damage and dashed after the villain, his visual receptors narrowed. Now it was personal. Fire Lord would regret the day he first entered the territory of Lucas Valor.
He pulled up the schematics of the artificial sun from the databanks afforded to him as the protector of Cerrazon. The interior of the sun was filled with maintenance corridors, rings and rings of them forming hundreds of floors. One central corridor, far wider than the others, spiraled from end to another. In the center of the sun was a massive, spherical chamber hosting the central power core -- that was where Fire Lord would be headed.
The giant hero's boots pounded down the metal floors, sensing that the plate was beginning to get warmer as he proceeded. Fire Lord was nearby. He readied his ice launcher, frost gathering in the barrel.
Shortly, he came to a fork in the road; Fire Lord had gone left this time. He followed the path until the corridor turned to the right, heading for the central spiral. The heavy footsteps of Fire Lord echoed through the sun.
Before rushing headlong around the bend, Valor prepared an attack and crept to the edge of the wall, examining the hallway beyond. Fire Lord was stomping determinedly forwards -- wait -- he stopped, staring intently at something to the right.
Valor's visual receptors were picking up only a glare from that side of the corridor. He readjusted his focus to see a large window gazing out onto a massive central chamber. Far below, the core of the sun radiated lazily.
Fire Lord stepped forwards, readying his claws to smash through the window, but Valor moved first. A thick coating of ice rose up over the window, and then a barrage of cold blasts struck at Fire Lord. They weren't enough to deal any serious damage, but the villain was kept off-balance for the critical moments in which Valor charged, swinging his blade.
Snarling, Fire Lord attempted to swat the weapon away, but Valor swung with all his might and cut deep into the villain's shoulder. There was a satisfying crackle as circuits broke. As Valor flipped away to level both his weapons at Fire Lord, the villain's right arm hung limply at his side.
"Before I take you into custody, I must read you your rights," Valor proclaimed. "Files containing the rights of prisoners taken by the Hero Factory are being transmitted to your cognitive circuitry currently."
Fire Lord roared in anger and lashed out with his left arm, unleashing a wave of fire. Valor easily sidestepped and replied with a toss of his hero cuffs. The semi-sentient tool darted around Fire Lord, clamping onto his lame wrist easily and making for his second.
That second hand suddenly lashed out and seized the cuffs by their chain-links. Fire Lord grinned evilly as electricity crackled from the tool and into his body.
"These drain power," Fire Lord chuckled, "and so do I." As the lightning spread to his shoulder, his arm repaired itself impossibly fast.
He unclipped the cuffs from his right wrist and tossed them back to Valor. "Here you go - I'm done with them."
Valor growled and unleashed another barrage of ice bolts before striking hard and fast at the villain. Fire Lord took the blasts nonchalantly, and before Valor could land his blow, Fire Lord's burning-hot foot had smashed into the hero, knocking him back across the hallway.
With one fluid motion, Fire Lord blasted Valor's jetpack into oblivion and simultaneously carved out a section of the window. Swiftly, he stepped through, rocketing downwards on his jetpacks.
The next thing he knew, a significant addition in weight was clinging to his foot, wincing as heat singed its circuitry. The two giants spiraled downwards, grappling with each other.
"Release… me!" Fire Lord screamed, increasing his body temperature tenfold. Damage reports shrieking in his head, Valor clung on with all the determination his surname implied.
Fire Lord glanced downwards. The core of the sun was approaching quickly, a burning sphere of light ringed by a maintenance catwalk. The power-draining villain gauged the possibility of landing there with Valor's weight dragging him below, dismissed the odds, and took the risk.
There was a mighty impact as both slammed into the metal floor of the catwalk. Valor's grip slipped briefly, and Fire Lord seized his chance: a mighty heave toppled Valor from the catwalk, knocking him into the abyss below, his jetpack sparking uselessly.
Valor hurtled end over end into the darkness. As he fell, he heard clearly the electric crackle of Fire Lord plugging his claws into the sun's core, and then a torrent of energy began to flow…
Quickly, the giant hero twisted around and unleashed a steady stream of ice, forming a ramp from the catwalk to the wall below him. He landed somewhat gracefully, cracking the ramp in too many places, and dashed desperately across its length, headed for the catwalk. His ice launcher could repair the ramp in front of him, but the ice shattered menacingly behind him with each step.
Fire Lord hardly noticed Valor's approach, so focused was he on sucking the sun dry. Valor could barely see the villain within the glowing aura of pure energy that surrounded him, crackling into his core. Now Fire Lord shone brighter than the core he feasted on.
Valor leapt from his crumbling ice bridge onto the catwalk and blasted ice at the villain's claw, but it turned to useless steam far before reaching the connection. Racking his cognitive circuitry for any solution, Valor watched helplessly as the light of the sun dimmed and dimmed….
The ebon armor of the villain was changing its color with the sheer power of the sun's energy. It glowed and transmuted to purest silver and gold, crowned with accents of white. With a long, contented sigh, Fire Lord drew the last of the sunlight into himself, its glow disappearing into his sockets and circuitry. Everything went dark.
"Yes," Fire Lord breathed, hardly believing the moment. " Yes! I am as a star, imbued with the energy of a sun! The galaxy shall beg for my mercy! No longer am I a lord of simple fire -- now I am the Sun Lord!"
Valor began to lift his ice launcher, but fire had overwhelmed him before he could even pull the trigger - fire so hot that it lacked color of any shade. It was purest white, blazing hot, and blindingly powerful. Valor could feel his armor melting away by the second. Worse, within ten minutes, the planets of Cerrazon would each see the darkness approach, frigid death within it.
Then the fires were gone; the newly-crowned "Sun Lord" had deemed Valor a waste of his energy, it seemed. With a triumphant yell, the titan hurtled into the air on the massive streams of fire emanating from his jetpacks, his new armor gleaming in the flames' light.
A mob of sun drones appeared from various entrance hatches, blazing through the air on high-power jetpacks. Rudimentary weapons were clutched in their hands, but their assault was futile. The "Sun Lord" barely registered as their blasts struck his form, so absorbed was he in a proclamation of his glory.
"Yes!" he cried again. "I shall blaze my name across the planets I conquer! Begone, useless mortals - my march of destruction begins now!"
With that, he unleashed a wave of fire upon the drones. Built to withstand such blows, they were not destroyed, but many were knocked to the ground by the sheer force of the blow. Valor himself was watching anxiously, running dozens of possible solutions through his cognitive circuitry and rebuking each one.
If only there were some way to reverse his energy. Or better yet, turn back time! Ha! he muttered to himself before recovering his attitude. Come on, come on… a hero can never give up! There must be some way! Pride comes before a fall, after all… a fall!
Perhaps an ordinary drone's blasts, or even a hero's bolts of ice, might not make a dent on this "Sun Lord" - but Valor was willing to bet he wasn't impervious to sharp objects.
With every volt of his circuitry focused on his aim and position, Valor zeroed in his targeting gaze on the hovering villain, cranking his arm back… and snapping it forward, sending his plain metal blade hurtling through the air at the "Sun Lord."
He watched with his cognitive circuitry pounding as the blade turned over and over on its end… and ultimately sliced directly through the beams connecting the villain's jetpacks to his body with a satisfying chunk .
Abruptly, the almighty "Sun Lord" toppled from his aerial perch and hurtled through the ground towards the catwalk. Not gifted with the same reflexes or grace as Lucas Valor, the flailing villain smashed directly through the thin sheets of metal and continued to fall.
Valor dashed over to the crumpled hole in the catwalk to watch as the self-proclaimed "Sun Lord" dropped through the air, arms reaching out frantically to any possible platform as he fell. Secretly, the hero was hoping to hear his opponent let out a scream, but the "Sun Lord" didn't grant him that pleasure before finally striking the bottom of the core chamber with an appropriately grand craaaaash .
Checking the time, it seemed that only three minutes had passed since the "Sun Lord" has risen and shut down the sun. Five minutes before Cerrazon 3 and 4 would even notice the problem, it had been solved.
The hero gestured to the sun worker drones, beckoning for them to follow. As smoothly as a monkey, Valor swung himself off the catwalk's railing and onto the wall, shimmying down it until he could grab onto an entrance hatch, and subsequently leapt from hatch to hatch to descend. After a few moments of gymnastics, he set foot on the floor lightly and gently.
Valor readied his ice launcher, though he didn't think he'd need it, as he stepped towards the smoking crater in the floor. Though the metal here was significantly thicker than a catwalk, several layers of it had still bent before the "Sun Lord's" velocity, and from the look of it, he'd gone down another twelve feet or so before finally grinding to a halt.
A low groan escaped the gaping dent in the ground.
Valor stepped to the edge of the crater and glanced down to see the "Sun Lord" sprawled in pain, most of his limbs bent at unfortunate angles and countless loose wires escaping the varied dents and holes torn in his gleaming white armor. Power was slowly trickling out of several such wires, and Valor could see the villain's hue darkening steadily.
The sun drones - seven of them, Valor now counted - descended on their jetpacks in a circle around the crater, glancing awkwardly at the pitiful sight. The chief, so evidenced by his larger and more stylized build, gingerly tapped Valor on the shoulder.
"Yes, sir?" the giant hero asked, grinning slightly.
"How are we to restore power to the sun?" the chief asked, his visual receptors wide with worry.
"Well, that's where we all have to help," Valor smiled. "Let's drag this obscenely big power-hog back up to the core and plug him in."
After several minutes of strenuous weight-lifting, Valor and the drones had deposited him on the unharmed pieces of the catwalk, next to the sun's core. Uneasily clutching the still groaning villain's wires, the sun drones quickly and efficiently hooked up the villain formerly known as "Sun Lord" to the core. The chief and Valor had managed to pry off Fire Lord's core and access his central power distribution board, and the chief's finger rested apprehensively on the all-important switch.
"Ready?" Valor asked. The drones nodded. "Then reverse the power!"
At a simple flick of the chief's finger, electricity surged out of Fire Lord, whose moaning intensified as his newfound power flooded out of his body and back into its rightful place. A steady glow escaped the core as it awoke and began to run its systems once more.
Valor checked the time. Just about two minutes to go before Cerrazon 3 and 4 endured about three minutes of total blackout. He couldn't do anything to stop what panic they might feel during the eclipse, but he was sending a broadcast now to explain the situation after the fact.
Fire Lord was twitching on the ground, barely enough electricity left in him to operate his cognitive circuitry. Valor sighed, shaking his head, at the useless arrogance of the villain, and lazily cuffed him.
"We've got a long walk ahead of us before we can exit this sun station," Valor grunted. "I'd suggest you read over your rights as we go. It'll relieve the boredom."