The Institute for Chronically Orphaned Children was a terribly depressing place. It was a gothic mansion monstrosity, situated on a lonely hill overlooking a cemetery on the far East Side of Rook City. The staff were a hardened assortment of strict Catholic nuns and medical school dropouts, managed by a strung out social worker appointed by the city government. To call it a prison, or at least an asylum was not too far from the truth. Children who found their way to the Institute rarely made their way back out.

There were three current residents of the Institute, a rare zenith in population. “Arson Joe” as he was known by the staff was the previous record holder for lost parents. Twelve brave couples had tried to give Joe Fuente a home, and eleven had met a sooty end. The nuns crossed themselves when he passed by in the halls, and the medical experts debated what sort of super villain he would become when he finally “graduated” their illustrious care. “The Smotherer” was a six year old girl who had gone through four sets of foster parents. She had a tendency to stare at the dusty and cobwebbed corners of the Institute, her charcoal eyes never blinking. Often, crows and ravens would crash suicidal into the windows of the rooms in which she resided – they had been forced to spend the cupcake fund on upgrading to lucite for all the cracks it caused. On the rare occasions she was seen passing through the halls, the nuns would say ten “hail marys” and the doctors debated whether her eyes were portals to hell, or just mirrors that reflected their own madness back at them.

The current record holder for dead parents was ten year old Anissa Cain. Thirty four couples, six best friends, a teacher, and a puppy was Anissa’s tally. However, she was unique in that the experts could find no fault in the young girl for the myriad deaths. Her biological parents had died in a stick-up gone wrong at an opera in the Skags. It was unclear why they had been at an opera in a part of town best known for its gang wars, but the five year old Anissa watched Callista and Reginald Cain gunned down in cold blood, their pearls and hundred dollar bills, cufflinks, and diamonds spraying dramatically with the blood upon the concrete of the unseasonably foggy alley. She had been adopted by her butler, who promptly died of a heart attack, then her maid who drowned in the pool. Her money hungry relatives inherited the house, though they were required by will to adopt Anissa. Her paternal aunt and uncle were killed in another shooting a week later, maternal died in a plane crash flying to Rook City after signing the adoption papers.

At that point the family wealth had gone into trust, and Anissa ended up at a mundane orphanage. Three best friends died – one protecting her from a lunatic, another when they played too near a cliff, though Anissa tried her best to hold on, and the last protecting her from a rabid skunk. Ten more families had adopted Anissa, for altruistic or selfish reason, and they had perished as well. Ninjas, terrorist bombings, deserted islands, deadly animals, and master assassins were among the culprits. She was transferred to the Institute for Chronically Orphaned Children at 8 years old. A few illegal experiments were conducted involving custody papers and death row inmates. Every single one who signed the papers ended up dead, “ahead of schedule” as it were. Three more best friends died under similarly brutal, tragic, and cliched endings. The day she gave her puppy a pretty pink bow it accidentally hung itself with the ribbon.

A normal child would have ended up like The Smotherer after all this tragedy, but Anissa was a bubbly, cheerful girl. The Institute had never been quite so pink since her arrival, and she sang and danced and played with invisible friends, or even Joe on the days he didn’t think dolls were so lame they should burn BURN ALL FIRE AND PAIN HATE. She was a talented acrobat, and when she would cartwheel and caper through the halls the nuns would shriek and pray and run away, while the doctors leapt behind riot shields, and tried their damndest not to be her best friend by scolding her harshly.

From time to time criminal organizations would raid the Institute for recruits, because, as was well known, the pinnacle of villainy came from the Institute. The Crash Brothers and Infamiss were both alums, not to mention a bevy of more insane but less successful degenerates of humanity. So no one was surprised that fateful day when the raid sirens went off, and emergency lighting kicked in throughout the facility.