Stone Force: Book One, Chapter Three.

Vandoscovian stone technology is both one of the greatest miracles of science in human history and a curse upon the islanders who use it. Near the center of the northern end of the island exists an inactive volcano aptly named Stone Mountain. Even from the outermost regions of this large island one could see at least the top of it. There have been manmade paths leading up and around it but the occasional traveler would still find the journey dangerous. The main geological features and biggest curiosities of the volcano are the stones scattered throughout.

Generally small and lightweight in nature, the stones possess properties that defied anything Vandoscovian scientists observed anywhere else. Centuries ago they began to experiment. They soon discovered that the stones could interact with biological beings. What happened next came completely unexpected. Through experimenting on themselves they found the stones gave them superhuman powers. They discovered that through precise yet easy surgery they could implant the stones into humans, giving them special powers for a lifetime.

At first, the scientists were content to use the powers as tools. A person implanted with a strength stone, for example, could use their powers for heavy lifting during construction work. A person with a fire stone could keep people warm and cook food. As long as a person had enough energy to maintain their powers, which were generally not very taxing, they could be of use to society.

However, the priests of the island who were in control of the government at the time, began to take notice. The Vandoscovian priests took the powers to be a gift from the gods. They soon made very strict sanctions on the use of the stones and reserved certain powers for themselves. The highest priest of the order kept the last remaining fire stone for himself. His second in command held an ice stone. The priests became scientist-priests. Unfortunately they soon became warrior-priests.

Nobody predicted how these powers would affect the psychology of some people. While they were already corrupt leaders, the stones made the priests even more dangerous. They began to view themselves as the gods themselves and started to quarrel with each other. The fire priest banished the ice priest and his followers to the largely uninhabited side of the island to the east, which became known as Scovia. His group of followers began to grow as people were fed up with the oppression of the fire priest. These events led to the first Vando-Scovian civil war.

The war ended in a draw, with both sides calling for a bitter truce. Having largely dropped the old religion the leaders set up new forms of government. The fire priest started a monarchy which had ever since stayed with his family name of Vence. The ice priest, however, set up a parliamentary style of government, appointing himself to what in later centuries became known as the office of prime minister. As he was the first, he held the position until his death, upon which the Scovian people elected a new leader with term limits.

Unlike the religion, the stones were not forgotten. During the truce the leaders divided regions of the mountain to be part of their own territories. Whatever stones they found on their side they got to keep. If the need ever arisen, they could trade stones with the other country.

They maintained the sanctions on the stones for private use. Although seemingly strict these laws kept people from abusing their power. Those that did found they destroyed themselves before the law could reach them. Under these conditions, the two countries existed in peace with relations between them easing as time went on. That is, of course, until the civil war in the twentieth century. During that time nearly every person on the island was implanted with stone powers during infancy. This led to a sadly higher mortality rate than before. Generals had no problem justifying this cost to advance the war.

When that war ended the Vando and Scovian governments decided to merge. Out of all of the restructuring, the opposing leaders signed the Stone Treaty, which heavily restricted the use of the stones. Practically nobody could ever use their powers again. Those without stones would remain so. Nobody protested. In the wake of the war it seemed everybody would rather forget having the powers instead of going through what they went through. Access to Mt. Stone became forbidden to the public.

That is not to say people didn’t use their powers in secret. For some people, like Telsa lighting her cigarettes, it was a secret thrill. Others used them illegally to enhance their performance at sports, school, or the workplace. Largely, however, stones were rarely ever used in public and haven’t been much of a problem.

The recent crime wave in and around Hill City sparked fears in the residents that stones were going to be coming back in use despite the fact that stone powers were not involved. Every robbery was accomplished largely with technology and skill. Nonetheless, the more sensationalist of the journalists spun the story to ask the question if the criminals were going to start using superhuman powers and if the police had to respond in kind. Yet the criminals showed no sign of even having stone powers. Most of them appeared to young to have been born before the Stone Treaty. For one man, this meant a skill in fighting was necessary.

In a dark abandoned tunnel under a village of Hill City, the masked man returned from the fight with Het and his men. Although he defeated most of them which led to their arrests, Het got away with the money. That and the death of all of those guards left a bitter taste in the masked man’s mouth. Whoever was behind these robberies was escalating his efforts. The man sat in front down on an old easy chair and removed his mask. Resting his head on the back of the chair, he turned it towards the mirror next to him.

Normally, he would be considered a rather handsome man. His strong, chin provided a frame for startling blue eyes, a rigid nose, and thin mouth. However, at least in his mind, all of his natural good-looks were overpowered by the discoloration of skin. His face was completely white due to a bout with Foljek’s disease when he was a small boy. Hiding from the Vando army which invaded his home and killed his mother, Foek Kotko got used to hiding. The events and his looks made him paranoid. He lived as an outsider.

Yet despite his exclusiveness he was driven by a desire to suppress the evils of the world. He swore upon the death of his mother he would rid his homeland of all of those would cause other people to suffer. The end of the war before he reached adulthood didn’t change his desires, just his methods. In these times of peace he decided he would simply help the police, even though he could never come face-to-face with them. He never had to kill anyone and tried not to. His vivid childhood memories of death and torture kept him from wanting to. To rid the streets of criminals would be to send them to jail. Hopefully they would reform. He dreaded the day he would have to put down somebody who came back to seek revenge.

Living by themselves, Foek and his brother Reff became street-smart. While Foek rarely ever left the tunnel Reff would often have to fend for himself in the outside world. He often teach Foek all that he learned, including fighting. Without a job, somehow Reff was able to bring food, clothes and other things into the tunnel for them to use. Foek became to suspect Reff was involved with some shady characters in the village but never questioned him… until one day Reff brought a television set home. Foek demanded to know how they were getting such things. Reff hit him. That was the first time outside of practice Reff ever hit Foek. He got things so they could live. How dare his younger brother question him? Foek said no more of the matter from then on.

Over time Reff became more and more gloomy and quiet. Even in that small tunnel a great distance was expanding between them. Then, one day, just before Foek turned 18, Reff was gone. He never said anything to Foek to indicate he was leaving. Foek woke up to find the mask with a note that simply said “To help you get out in the world.” Since then Foek left the tunnel, wearing the mask, to search for Reff. After dealing with the Vandoscovian underworld long enough he abandoned this task for his vigilante quest. He earned the street name Outsider. Some of the older crooks used the ancient language of the island, Pelfic, to call him “Irrono.” At first he tried to call himself that for the sake of heritage. After the older generation started dying out, his heritage died with them. After all, in his life what did he have to be proud of?

The fight with Het was his first major lost. He turned his head to the other side of the chair to an alarm clock. The opening ceremonies of the peace festival were about to begin. He turned on the television. He wasn’t going to miss the beautiful Vando Princess Elle. Although his exposure to her was on television he became infatuated. To see her looking her best and making a long speech would take his mind off the robbery. He was relieved not to turn the television to news of the robbery but the image of the festival grounds. Perhaps because of the failure of the government-designed helmets the robbery was kept quiet by the government or at least played down for the media. Either way, he was soon distracted by the sight of Elle talking to a reporter about the events to come.

As they went to commercial the phone next to the alarm clock rang. Foek picked it up immediately saying “Hello, Rash.”

The chief of the Hill City police force was known as Rash for a very good reason. His stone power gave him the ability to give somebody a horrible rash through skin contact. Although not very effective in battle it proved to be quite useful in interrogation, so the government granted him permission to use it when necessary for his police work. Some were worried at first that it would be considered torture. After a while it became apparent that he only needed to threaten somebody to gain information from them. The fears of the public were soon alleviated.

His voice came over the phone. “Outsider, how could you tell it was me?” Outsider could hear a jovial sarcasm in Rash’s voice. He chose not to encourage it.

“It’s always you. You’re the only one who knows the number.” In fact it was a direct line straight from the police station. Outsider set it up personally himself to keep his identity and whereabouts secret, at Rash’s request. The two have been in contact for years through notes delivered to a secret hiding place. Even if the police were to follow him, he was able to keep his face hidden and to lose them. Ultimately, they decided on the phone line to make communications easier.

“Quite right. Anyway, as you probably guessed I’m calling you about the attempted robbery today….”

“What do you mean, ‘attempted?’ It was a robbery, Rash. That crazed German got away with the money. Not to mention all of those guards are dead.”

“Yeah, well, the government is calling it ‘attempted’ for now. They don’t want anybody to know about the dead guards, or even the stolen money. The prisoners you helped us catch are getting special privileges, not to mention special threats, to keep their mouths shut on the matter.”

“Still, if only I had gotten there earlier. I might have saved those men….”

“How? You didn’t know what was going to happen. Besides, what would you do? Jump out of the shadows,and yell ‘Take off your helmets or you’re going to die?’ They probably would have shot you on the spot.”

This did comfort Outsider a bit. However, there was still one thing about the day’s events that plagued his mind. “One of your men chased me.”

“I know. And he’s being punished severely for that. I’m afraid he’s a rookie and got carried away. I have to apologize to you about that.”

“Are you saying if one of your more experienced officers was on the scene he wouldn’t pursue?”

“That, and if he did, he’d catch you.” The sense of humor in Rash’s voice suddenly became stern for that last statement. Although Outsider worked with him, and wanted to work with him for the sake of his cause, he didn’t quite trust him.

The gayety returned to Rash’s voice. “By the way, are you watching the TV?” he asked.

“Of course. I wouldn’t miss this celebration of peace.”

“You mean the sight of the pretty princess.” Somehow, Rash knew of Outsider’s crush on the young woman. Did he let it slip at some point?

“Whatever. Anyway, quiet down, the program’s back and they’re about to begin.”

“Fine, but keep the line open. During the next break I want to tell you about some info one of the crooks gave me that might be of some use to you.”

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