In the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, several kilometers away from Haven City -
Inside an enormous cavern, in water so deep that not a single ray of light dared to trespass, the mangled body of a giant manta ray curled up in a ball. It loosed a ghostly siren wail of pain that traveled through the dark waters, but found no call of pity to soothe it back.
For these waters were empty, the cavern itself located in what was known as a 'Null Zone' that generated black spots where no Ether based power could observe. The latent Ether in these areas also formed a naturally concealing barrier that prevented conventional surveillance from breaching.
In this cave of privacy, the manta shuddered as its form grew increasingly fragile and thin. Its spines, once large and fierce and capable of generating mass quantities of lightning, were now reduced down to nubs. The white and blue flesh of its majestic wingspan shriveled and dried into a dark husk.
The many wounds on its head had sealed over but now opened up again as the creature exerted itself.
Blood pooled out from deep scars that reached dangerously close to its brain.
But the manta did not care about its own health.
It cared only about one thing -
It curled itself up into a tighter ball, keeping its flesh wrapped over a rippling orb of grey slime.
In here, something terrible, something horrible, gestated.
The silhouette of an eerie infant form shuddered and convulsed as it grew and grew by the moment within this womb of slime and flesh.
Helical strands of eerie glowing blue fed into the infant from the manta, and as these strands streamed out, the manta grew thinner and thinner.
These were nutrients and genetic material from the many the manta had dissolved with its slimes and variants that she had devoured during her hunts over the past six months.
Cleanse the Rot.
This was the instinctive message drilled into the manta when she came into contact with the Voice.
But she had failed.
The Rot was too strong.
The Rot's carriers, the 'humans', were too much to overcome with their walls and mighty fighters, and now the manta accepted her impending death from her injuries.
But the manta entrusted that her precious child would succeed where she had fallen.
Cleanse the Rot, the manta whispered deep into the depths of her unborn child's psyche, deep into its genetic memory.
The manta grew thinner and thinner, until finally, it had been absorbed into the very womb of slime it had created, turned into the final burst of nutrients and energy needed for her child to be born.
The grey slime womb crystallized solid, turning many shades darker, almost into a black crystal suspended within these dark and lonely waters.
The infant within was nearly fully formed now, and surprisingly, it was far, far smaller than its mother.
Its silhouette was shaped like the carriers of the Rot, its body upright with two arms, and two legs, and it was not much larger than the carriers, those humans.
Yet, within that tiny body, there was undeniable power -
The crystal cocoon started to shatter as the silhouette's large, circular eyes glowed a distinct azure blue. Cracks wreathed all around the womb-prison, and light shone brightly out of it as contained, built up might struggled to spill out.
Then, the cocoon shattered, and a pillar of blue energy rumbled outwards, piercing through the ocean and into the skies, and thus, with the rumbling of thunder, the Call was sent out and the Herald born.
Among districts in Haven, it was an indisputable fact that the highest concentration of suited up, heartless corporate workers with the fattest credit accounts lived in the Financial District.
Here, the corporate worker bees and their higher ups, all collectively called Suits, toiled endlessly for their mega-corporations, specifically for Hammerhead Industries that dominated the Haven's northern manufacturing district and Nautilus Moving that held a tight monopoly over Haven's shipping.
In Haven Center, the streets became cleaner. High end ARMA police rotated around in their cobalt blue combat suits, ensuring that no common street thug could even dream of stepping foot in these wealthy streets.
No, the only crime that they allowed was crime perpetuated by the Suits themselves, because at the end of the day, mega corporations were just glorified gangs pumped up to a multinational scale.
Their white collars were not above staining with blood, as evidenced by the three great Corpo-Wars of 2080, 2090, and 2100 that shed blood on the order of hundreds of thousands.
It was a common saying among regular folk that 'where there were Suits, there were walls', and this held no less true for Haven's city center. The Central District was defended by its own set of walls independent of the Panopticon and government funded walls of the city proper.
These walls were far higher tech, personally commissioned by the wealthy to protect them. Not to mention it kept out lower class citizens.
Within these walls, inside the penthouse suite of the White Rose, an internationally renowned five-star hotel, two men sat on a luxuriously cushioned couch as they watched a wide telescreen projecting images of brutal, bloody battle that completely contrasted with the clean, cool white marbles and golds and floral patterns that decorated the walls of their room.
"So, what do you think? Wouldn't it be fun to just show up and screw with them?" said a red, blue, and gold costumed man as he bared an eager grin. His costume seemed almost elegant, its body armor and fabric designed to mimic a rather dapper overcoat and suit getup.
His eyes flashed with bright color, his white pupils lined with three rings of red, blue and gold matching his costume.
At the center of his costume that barely hid the curvature of his muscles was the roman numeral III.
This was Hat Trick. A- rank hero.
"What's the point? We would just be dealing with small fry," said a powerfully built giant of a man with a much plainer suit. It was brown with stony crack patterns like the earth with heavy mechanical bracers of white that made his arms look enormous like those of belonging to a gorilla.
This was Seismic. Also A- rank hero.
The two A rank heroes stationed in Haven in case there were further Variant attacks.
"True, true," said Hat Trick. "It's like I'm looking at a D list carnival. Weak ass villains just shooting each other up, hah! Doesn't it kinda make you want to just show up, you know, in the name of public safety and all, and just utterly stomp these fools? Just to show them that there's way, way bigger fish out there?"
"Not particularly," said Seismic. He shrugged his boulder-like shoulders.
"Oh come on, you like breaking things, don't you? Don't you want to just go out there and break these villains in half?" said Hat Trick with an eager smile, waiting for an excuse to leave.
"Yeah. But it's an unhealthy urge, and I don't like feeding into it. Messes with the whole hero job," said Seismic. "Plus I've been eight years free from any unnecessary breaking incidents. Don't want to lose that streak now."
"But these are villains, Seismic. They deserve to get broken." Hat Trick motioned to the screen where his Navigator, a techno specialized in providing surveillance and reconnaissance for heroes, transmitted video feed and images of the scuffle happening at the Red Circle.
"Yeah, probably. But you know the rules. If villains fight among each other, you leave them alone. Better to let them thin out their own numbers," said Seismic. "But I'll give you this: if they involve civilians somehow, I would ne willing to go there with you."
"I didn't know you were this boring, Seismic," said Hat Trick with a roll of his strangely colored eyes.
"I'm fifty years old, Hat Trick, and I have a baby boy that watches the news to see how much of a hero his dad is. Breaking villain spines on live TV isn't exactly great for that," said Seismic. "Maybe even ten years ago, I would have gone, but now?
No, not really."
Seismic struck a concerned look at Hat Trick. "You know, sometimes I worry that you have an even worse addiction for violence than me, and my addiction's medically diagnosed. A side effect of my power needing me to shatter things or something.
You should get yourself checked out."
Hat Trick scoffed. "I'm fine. I'm just bored as all hell waiting for something to happen in this sh*tty city. I don't see any variants attacking, and I'm not about to do some low level sh*t like stopping the local convenience store from getting robbed.
Figured this whole Red Circle thing was the next best thing to get myself moving."
"Still, I wonder about the consequences of this," said Seismic. He scratched his slicked back grey and black hair. "The Red Circle going rogue? The Trident mobilizing forces against them? And those three B ranker villains too, I thought they were MIA.
But they show up now all of a sudden?
Something big must have happened."