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Return to Darkness
Part 2 – Welcome to Striga

By Eli J. Litzelman

    A Council technician looked at the life readings in front of him and yawned.  Besides the fact that he did not sleep very well last night, he had gotten up at five o’clock in the morning and was not very thrilled to work in the cell shift.  He rubbed his head and looked at the surveillance monitor:  the prisoner was regaining consciousness.
    RoboZon peeked through an eyelid.  He then opened his other eye and glanced around the room.  Attempting to stretch his muscles while wearing handcuffs, he stood up.  From the look of it he was in a makeshift cell within the interior of a ship.
    From behind a large crate approached four troopers.  They stopped in front of the cage and the commanding officer pulled a key from his pocket.  Using the key to unlock a hidden door, the officer signaled for the metal master to follow. 

    RoboZon was now situated in-between four leading officers with his hands tied behind his back.  He followed along for ten feet to let them stray beyond the cameras and then made his move.  Stopping abruptly, the hero put his right leg back, causing that guard to trip over it.  He then came up with this same leg and kicked the man forward.  The man to the front-right of RoboZon turned but was tripped from beneath and smashed his face on the steel floor. 
    After the kick, the metal master landed on his front foot and switched to straddle-stance.  He then performed a side-kick, hitting the man back-left to RoboZon’s original position. 

    The remaining man began to unload his P-90 sub-machinegun. 

    Anticipating this reaction, RoboZon leaned back to avoid the rounds.  He then, by kicking upwards, slammed the gun into the soldier and completed a back-flip.  Seeing the man he had side-kicked earlier was still in action, the hero positioned himself for a roundhouse.  But instead of hitting the man, RoboZon wrapped his foot around the villains head and, by propelling himself, lifted his other leg.  He kicked repeatedly before throwing the man to the ground with his first leg.

    RoboZon dropped to the ground.  He then went to the man who had unlocked his cell and took the key.  As he suspected, it was also the key to his cuffs.  By searching a crate in the corner he found the rest of his costume and put it on.  He then went back and began to put police transponders on all the villains.

    “You don’t want to miss your jail appointment, do you?”  He mumbled.

    But just before he put the transponder on the last member, he noticed something:  an alarm; the button was pushed.  RoboZon worked quickly.  He tore off the communicator and positioned it against his head. 

    A voice that could be defined as neither male nor female spoke through the earpiece.  “Sharpshooters, you may fire when ready.”

    A bullet struck RoboZon square in the chest.  A sudden chill rushed through the hero’s body, slowing him.  Although decelerated, he was not immobilized and he demonstrated this by flying toward the snipers while dodging bullets.  He did a back-flip to the top of the crate and vanished.

    The menacing sound of ice bursting echoed in the hull of the ship, but soon was replaced by a dreaded silence. 

    The Council soldiers were crouched, their guns to their shoulders, ready for attack.  One slid his gun into a holster and went into fighting stance.  They were ready for anything… or so they thought.

    Forcing all of his power forward, RoboZon kicked a trooper off the crate.  He then ducked down low and spun in a circle with his leg extended.  Two more fell and were quickly subdued.  The one who had holstered his weapon earlier was the last standing.

    RoboZon lunged forward but the man stepped backward and continued to block.  Even though the young man was putting up quite an effort, the hero soon got in a punch that ripped the soldier’s mask off, revealing the familiar face of Ronny:  RoboZon’s old bunk mate.

    “Hello Ronny.”

    “Hello Robo.”

    RoboZon then grabbed Ronny’s head and smashed it down into his knee.  “…Nice seeing you too.”

    Seeing the commotion above, a Council member decided to test the action on his mini-gun.  RoboZon performed a cartwheel, grabbed the edge of the crate, and swung himself into its dark interior. 

    Instantly troopers filled the entrance.  They received a single command:  “Light ‘im up.”  A single man stepped forward.  He reached over his shoulder, pulled a flamethrower back over, and poured flame into the large metal box.  He chuckled softly:  the hero was toast, literally.  Suddenly, he was thrown off his feet and flew backward.

    RoboZon had jump-kicked the Council member and continued over until he had landed behind the villain.  His robes, cape, and hat were on fire.  The blaze reflected off his visual sensors creating an eerie effect.  He then thrust his hand forward so hard it launched a fireball forward into three troopers.  The troopers went flying back into a far wall, slid to the ground, and lay on the metal floor, lifeless. 

    The other men in the room took a step back, but they did not run - after all, they were trained solders.  Advancing on the hero did not seem like a wise choice, but disobeying an order was completely out of the question.

    RoboZon jerked his upper body to the side, causing his cape to swoosh up and around the head of a soldier.  The hero then grabbed the end of his cape and snapped down, breaking the other man’s neck.  He moved with the viciousness of a tiger, the effortless ease of a heron, and the preciseness of a hawk - the movements flowing together as smooth as silk or, perhaps, flowing water.

    RoboZon finished the last trooper and grinned.  Taking a knee, he confiscated an electronic device from the body of a soldier. 

    “Come on, baby, find me an exit.”  He muttered as he pressed buttons on the mechanism.  He then tapped the screen.  “Got it.”

    Leaping up into the air, the hero flew left for awhile before vaulting to the top of a balcony.  He grabbed the door handle and forced back the bolt.  Behind the door stood Vandal.  He kicked RoboZon so hard it caused him to flip over the rail and twenty feet down into the steel floor.  He then took a right and walked down the corridor.  “The Legendary Mechanical RoboZon…”  His posture was straight, his hands behind his back, his boots making soft clicking noises as he walked.  “Champion of the weak, conqueror of evil, savior of the city, indestructible they say…”  He started down the stairs and smirked.  “You are about to be the most wanted villain alive.  How do you feel?”

    RoboZon stood up.  “Like a father about to correct a small child.”

    Vandal cracked his knuckles, leaped over the rail, and dropped five feet to the ground.  “You are the one who is to be corrected, for you are gravely mistaken.”

    RoboZon was tired of all the chit-chat and ready for action.  He lunged forward through the air, kicking three times as he moved.  The arch-villain blocked all three kicks.  As the hero landed, Vandal double-fist-punched him in the solar-plexus, sending him sliding backwards.  But the hero’s stance did not waver.

    Vandal screamed a battle cry and charged forward.  The metal master blocked the lunging punches and kicks and returned in kind.  But each missed their target. 

    At that moment they became a single unit.  Two men locked in combat, a lethal fight that could mean life or death.  They moved in a single rhythm, complete focus, and absolute calm.  Their minds were free, nothing existed, and they were acting on a second nature.  They were moving in the expert art of “empty-hand” fighting.  Dozens of punches and kicks came forth, but all were blocked with the same rhythmic, almost slithering motion.  Time seemed to slow, and then stop as the epic duel continued.

    One kick:  that was all it took.  It hit RoboZon in the ribs, adjusting his hips and bending his stance.  He lost rhythm; it was for less than a second, but then again, that was all it took.  The flurry of punches that came next was disorienting.  RoboZon tried to get back into rhythm, tap back into his primal instincts, but it was too late.  Soon he lost count of the blows he was taking.  He struggled to stay upright, but to no avail.  The sound of him crashing to the floor echoed through the ship. 

    Vandal stood next to the gasping hero and shook his head.  He then kicked the metal master in the side of the head.  RoboZon was out cold.

    RoboZon woke up standing.  He had a cuff around each bicep to keep him erect.  His hands were locked behind his back and his feet were chained to the floor.  He was in a giant cylinder the walls of which were made of a clear substance.  Outside the liquid walls, technicians scurried back and forth.  In the middle stood Vandal, looking at his prize.  Seeing that RoboZon was awake, Vandal ascended the short flight of stairs to the tube.  Sliding a panel to the side, he stepped in.

    “You’re dead, Vandal,” RoboZon spat the words.

    “Indeed.”  The arch-villain walked around behind RoboZon and grabbed his right arm.  “You know, I remember making this arm.  It was made to serve me, and serve me it will.  But soon it will be non-functional and you will be dead.”  He strode back around and now stood in front of the hero.  “I told Requiem that you were the only option.  In truth I could have used any hero but I wanted to get back at you for the humiliation you caused me.”  He walked to the panel and let himself out.  He then pulled a small device out of his pocket and pressed a button on it.

    Electricity surged through RoboZon.  He screamed in pain and struggled to get out of the metal clutches that held him in place.  Shear, unbearable agony tore his mind from his body.  Suddenly, his screaming stopped.  He stood up straight and stiff.  He tried to move, to scream, to do anything, but his body refused to comply.  Soon the surging stopped.  Vandal slid the glass aside once again and stepped in.  RoboZon’s cuffs dropped to the floor.  He tried to lunge forward, to make Vandal pay for the pain he had just caused.  But instead he… saluted.  He struggled to pull his arm down, but with the same result.

    “Now for your assignment,” Vandal smirked, enjoying every minute of it.  “First, you will need to get your new costume from the box in the corner so you don’t look suspicious.”  He then shook his head and chuckled to himself. “Next, I want you to go to Atlas Plaza and eliminate Ms. Liberty.”

    Archer of Ramesses woke up from his sleep just before sunrise.  The feeling he had last night still hung to him as he walked to the kitchen.  He opened the refrigerator and studied its contents.  Finally selecting an apple, he decided to take a walk.  He disappeared from site and reappeared outside.  Taking a bite from his apple, he started at a slow pace.
    His mind wandered as he walked, his feet taking him someplace unknown.  He had the vague impression of the sun rising to his left.  He walked around skyscrapers, through dark alleys, and up flights of stairs, while his mind wandered elsewhere.  Occasionally, he took a bite from his apple. He strolled from the highest of overpasses to the deepest, darkest pits for over half an hour.  The feeling held with him the whole way, irritating his mind to no end. 
    He suddenly looked down.  He had eaten the entire apple and his hand was now empty.  He was aware of techno music playing and looked up.
    He was standing under the giant statue of Atlas.


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