PART TWO

Tropic decided to start at the beginning. The first heroine to go missing, a woman by the name of Anri, had been on a mission to investigate this warehouse in Skyway City. He dropped to the ground in front of the building and found the door unlocked.

"Strange", he thought as he entered the facility. The place was indeed empty, although there were some signs of recent activity and a considerable amount of graffiti on the walls. He went through the building quickly and found nothing. The hero Crimson had sent earlier was right - there was nothing here, except some empty crates and now some dust that had settled over the preceding month.

But still, something didn’t feel right. Tropic went through the place again, looking closer at walls and floors, corners and crannies. Passing by a dead-end corridor in the rear of the warehouse he stopped and looked again. Something was off. He could almost feel it, touch it. He stood staring at the wall and then the floor. Suddenly it hit him.

There were tracks on the floor, tire tracks, made by a pallet jack or perhaps a fork lift. But the odd thing was that they went right up to the wall. There was no accounting for the load that was carried or even a bumper on the forklift. The tracks looked, for all intents and purposes, as if they went straight through. Tropic examined the wall closely. Then the side walls of the corridor.

He frowned. A slight depression was in the wall of the hallway right next to the dead end. Tropic placed his palm against it and pushed. A rumbling started and the back wall rose up revealing an entire new section of the warehouse. He cursed to himself. The other hero had missed this completely. Those missing girls might have been found by now if it weren’t for that. Tropic sighed and stepped forward and began to search this new section.

It was much the same as the first part of the warehouse. Empty, dusty and full of crates that revealed nothing. However there was an office in this part of the building and Tropic focused his search there.

The office was a typical small warehouse office, maybe ten by ten feet. There was a desk, two file cabinets, a couple of chairs and a painting on the wall of a fishing village of the 1920’s. Tropic began his search at the desk and found exactly what he expected to find: nothing. The two file cabinets yielded nothing but empty hanging file folders. He examined the painting on the wall. He found nothing on it, in it or around it and there was no wall safe hidden behind it.

"Wouldn’t get that lucky", he thought to himself. He sighed and looked around the small office once more. Then he saw it, the edge of a piece of paper, it’s corner peeking out from under the desk. He bent to pick it up and saw it was the page of a desk calendar dated a week ago. "When the last heroine went missing.", he whispered.

There was nothing on the paper except a name. Al-Salim Kabir Asam. Tropic grinned slightly. Something, not much, but something.

Then he heard a door open and shut and raised voices and cackling laughter. He spun around and willed himself invisible. Tropic smiled. Someone had come into the warehouse. And Someone was going to answer some questions.

Still invisible, Tropic flew towards the entrance of the warehouse. Alighting silently atop a stack of crates he stared downwards at the new arrivals. Five Freakshow gang members had entered the building as if they owned it. A couple of Freak choppers, a Juicer, a Stunner and a Tank Smasher whom Tropic had dealt with before named Nik-Nak. They stalked casually towards the back of the warehouse right past and directly under the hero.

Tropic gathered his energy and, becoming fully visible again, launched a bolt of pure flame directly into Nik-Nak’s back. The tank staggered forward and nearly fell. The other Freak’s looked back towards their attacker. "It’s Tropic!", screamed one of the choppers. The Juicer and Stunner took to the air firing energy bolts at the hero.

Tropic leapt from the crates landing in front of the two choppers. A fire ball engulfed the both of them quickly followed by a blast of fire that put them down. Having dealt with the choppers he quickly fired another blast at the tank adding to the confusion.

The two flying Freaks were hovering overhead still blasting away at him. Tropic jumped up on one of the crates and launched himself towards them. Suddenly a sword of pure flame manifested itself in his hand. He swung in a wide circle and caught both of them in its fiery arc. He landed cat-like as the Juicer and Stunner fell dazed at his feet.

Tropic rolled forward just as the Tank’s hammer swung over his head. "Gonna get you, Tropic!!", Nik-Nak giggled as he pursued the hero. The hammer, attached where his hand used to be, swung back and forth as the Tank tried desperately to connect. Tropic jumped and rolled, turning back to fire blast and bolt at the Freak boss. He connected a few times but it barely slowed his foe down.

Tropic turned and ran directly at Nik-Nak. At the last moment he leapt up and somersaulted over the top of the Tank. When he landed he gathered his power and shot a powerful blaze into the Freak. Nik-Nak stumbled but still came on. Tropic fired another bolt into him and the boss slowed even more, wavering on his feet. Tropic rushed forward, fired another blast and the sword appeared again, swiping forward and catching the Tank in it’s devastating power. Nik-Nak wobbled, said "Dammit" and fell at the hero’s feet.

Tropic sighed heavily and fell backward onto a crate, taking a moment to rest. "Well", he said to himself, "that was no fun." Through the course of the chase he had led Nik-Nak back to the other Freaks he had defeated. They lay groggily about him and, before they fully awakened, Tropic encircled each of them in a ring of fire.

The Freaks slowly became aware of their predicament. They stood warily in the center of the fire and looked angrily at the hero.

Tropic smiled a menacing smile and said, "Let’s talk."

Nik-Nak sneered back at the hero. "We got nothin to say to you, Gooder."

The other Freaks murmured in agreement, taunting Tropic with threats and curses. Tropic raised his hand and began to close it as if to make a fist. As he did so the fire rings surrounding the thugs grew smaller, starting to lick at the feet of the trapped criminals. They yowled in protest and Tropic relaxed his grip. The rings widened slightly again.

"This is the deal.", Tropic said, looking at each Freak individually before continuing. "I don’t care what you’re doing here. Don’t care what you’ve done. I need information." He looked at them all again. "You talk, you walk. Don’t talk and I hear there’s plenty of room in the Zig. Simple as that."

The choppers, Stunner and Juicer looked at each other. Nik-Nak, for his part, took the hard line. "You must be crazy, Cape! We ain’t telling you jack!" He looked to his men for approval. His men looked at him with less conviction.

"Fine." Tropic made a show of taking out his communicator. With great flourish he proceeded to call the police.

Before his finger could hit the number pad one of the choppers shouted out, "WAIT!".

"Shut Up!", Nik-Nak yelled.

"No way!", the chopper said angrily. "I’m a three time looser! Next time I get popped its fifteen hard. I ain’t gonna do that time!"

"I just got out!", said the Juicer

"Me too!", the Stunner added.

"And I ain’t goin back!", said the other chopper.

"OK", Tropic smiled, "Talk and walk. What’s been going on here in the last couple of weeks that’s been…out of the ordinary?" He crossed his arms over his chest and waited.

"You guys just shut up!", Nik-Nak yelled.

Tropic pointed his finger directly at Nik-Nak. It’s tip glowed white hot. "You. Quiet."
He turned to the other Freaks and waited expectantly for their story.

One of the choppers cleared his throat and looked around at his friends. His gaze fell upon Nik-Nak, who stood glaring at them. He turned from the Tank, looked towards Tropic and then down at his feet. "It was maybe a week, week and a half ago," he began. "Me and Rakit here", he gestured at the other chopper, "was coming back from something late and we passed by here. It was like two or three in the morning and this place was lit up like Times Square. We decided to see what was goin’ on so’s we snuck in the back."

Rakit nodded in agreement and took over the telling. "There was this semi trailer, you know, a eighteen-wheeler, and it had all these guys swarming around it. They was all dressed in black and some of ’em had this glowing thing on their backs. There were some cowboys telling’ ’em what to do and they were loading these big tubes onto the trailer."

Tropic leaned forward. "What kind of tubes?"

"I dunno, regular tubes." Rakit said. "Big, um…people sized. They was black wit silver stripes on ’em. They just loaded up and drove away. And then a bunch a vans followed the truck." He paused and looked at Tropic. "That’s it."

The two choppers nodded and looked at each other. They turned to their friends who had more skeptical looks on their faces.

"Let me see if I have this straight.", Tropic smiled. "Some cowboys were telling a bunch of glowing guys dressed in black to load people sized tubes into an eighteen-wheeler and then got into some vans and drove away."

The silence that hung in the air was deafening. When the story was said out loud like that, it sounded ridiculous. The two choppers nodded vigorously. The Stunner and Juicer looked at each other and then at the choppers with doubting expressions. Nik-Nak smirked at the idiot tale.

"Man, that’s kind of thin.", the Juicer said shaking his head.

"Well, the truth usually is.", Tropic nodded.

Nik-Nak’s jaw dropped in disbelief. "What?!? You believe them?"

"Yes, I do." Tropic waved his hand and the fire rings disappeared from around the four Freakshow goons. "Walk", he said simply, and then called out to the backs of the fleeing gang members, "And try to be good!".

He turned to the Tank who was still surrounded by the ring of fire. Nik-Nak waited expectantly. "Well, Cape? You gonna let me go or turn me in?", he stood defiantly in the center of the flames.

Tropic smiled. "Nothing I can really turn you in for, is there?"

"What!? You said the Zig…"

"I lied. You guys didn’t do anything that I saw.", Tropic turned and began to walk away. "And those flames will snuff out in a couple of minutes…or maybe an hour. I can never tell." He left the warehouse serenaded by the curses and threats of the Freakshow leader.

He now knew that the Malta Group was behind the super heroine disappearances. The chopper’s description of cowboys and glowing men could only be Gunslingers and Sappers. And the people sized tubes were canisters containing the lost heroines. He touched the calendar page stored in his belt. Time to get the name on it and the rest of this information to Crimson. Tropic jumped into the sky and streaked towards Peregrine Island.

----------------------INTERLUDE-----------------------

She felt her feet sliding across the floor, felt the rough hands gripping her arms and under her shoulders and knew she was being dragged. She had been in something round and close and dark but could do nothing. It was as though the thickest fog in Dark Astoria had crawled into her head and surrounded her body. She heard voices but couldn’t understand them and had lost all sense of place and time.

She was dragged for a long time it seemed and was beginning to get some feeling back into her befuddled mind. War Witch started to move her head a bit, her green and blue striped hair flipping from side to side, and was able to finally see some of where she was.

A long corridor with rounded walls and ceilings. It looked like a Portal Corp lab but the men holding her were far from scientists. Dressed in black and all carrying weapons of some type they continued pulling her until they reached a barred doorway.

It looked to her like a prison cell and as the door clanked open they pulled her inside. War Witch started to move her head slightly again and mumble, becoming more difficult as she gained some feeling back in her arms and legs.

"She’s starting to wake up.", one of the men said matter-of-factly.

"Don’t worry.", another voice answered. "She’s still so out of it she ain’t gonna be no trouble."

She felt the hands on her clutch at her costume. War Witch heard the rip as it was torn away from her and her athletic body exposed to the leers of her captors. She couldn’t fight or even cover herself in her dazed state. She tried to move her arms and shake her head but moving was so hard. She mumbled "No! Stop!" but was barely coherent.

The men laughed and she felt something draped over her. It was some type of
shift made of linen, white and resembled a potato sack with holes cut in it for her head and arms.
Then she felt something on her wrists and heard a metallic scraping and knew they were chaining her. War Witch screamed at herself to fight. She felt her coven about her but they were just beyond her fingertips, too far away to help. And then that smell again. And the voice.

And she curled up on the cold metal floor…asleep and bound.
TO PART 3 >
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