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From the Ashes

D Heikes

Chapter 3

            Shadow Pain and Kwang Ghe raced through the streets of Steel Canyon, weaving around pedestrian and auto traffic as though all were standing still.  Most of the people barely saw the two Heroes, only seeing the blur go by faster than their heads could turn to follow.

            Thauma Guard had called upon them when she overheard a police broadcast about an attack on a warehouse thought to be a hideout for the Freakshow.  The details were sketchy at best, but it was apparent a battle was waging inside.  Shadow Pain and Kwang Ghe were the two closest.

            The building was low slung brick in the southwest corner of Steel.  Police cars lined the roads up to the barricades they had erected.  A crowd of onlookers stared at the building, smoke rising from several open windows.  A television news helicopter circled the area.

            Members of the crowd started murmuring as the two Heroes crossed the police line and headed for what looked to be the officer in charge.  Standing in the open door to his patrol car, the burly sergeant, whose nametag said Kelso, was carrying on a rapid fire conversation over his radio.  None of the officers were covering the building with weapons, most seemed relaxed or bored, intent simply on keeping out the crowd.

            “What’s the situation, officer?” Shadow Pain asked.

            “Rumor had it there was a high level Freakshow meeting scheduled today.  Someone went in and tore them a new one.”

            “Any idea who?” Kwang Ghe asked.

            “None.  Of course there were no witnesses.  It could have been someone powerful with a grudge against the Freaks.  At any rate, it’s a real mess in there.  Some small fires still burning.”

            “Fires,” Shadow Pain said. 

Kwang Ghe looked at the building and narrowed his glowing blue eyes.  “I can see the heat signatures through the walls.  Someone threw a lot of fire around in there.”

“Let’s go take a look.”

“Try not to disturb too much,” Kelso said.  “The fires don’t seem a threat of spreading.”

“We know the drill, Sergeant, thanks,” Shadow Pain said.

Moving into the building Kwang Ghe said, “What was that all about?”

Shadow Pain shook her head.  “I don’t know.  We’ve been in hundreds of crime scenes.  They know we know what we’re doing, we work with the police.”

A uniformed officer let them through the front door of the warehouse.  Immediately the Heroes were struck by the devastation.  Burn holes and scorch marks covered everything, the air smelled of burnt metal and flesh.

Several Freakshow lay in the hallway, their flesh cooked, the metal they had implanted into their bodies melted.  The radical clothing, tattoos, and metal grafting trademark of the drug-enhanced gang was difficult or impossible to distinguish amongst the charred husks.  Inside offices where more bodies were found, file cabinets or computers were nothing more than warped and twisted slag.  Bullet holes covered one wall where the Freaks had fought back, but no blood or other evidence was found indicating they had had any effect on their assailant.

“This is not right,” Kwang Ghe said.  “No Hero would do this.”

“I think you may be wrong about that,” Shadow Pain said, her voice held a touch of sadness.

They continued through the warehouse, finding nothing more than the same scene played out in different rooms.  Every Freakshow member was dead, some little more than charred bits of ash.

The Freakshow was notoriously ruthless, and it was hard to feel pity for them under any circumstance, yet the Heroes couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for the criminals, knowing that they had obviously been little more than an annoyance to whomever had wreaked havoc with them.

Several of the holes in the wall still smoldered, some still held burning patches. Black smoke thickened as the Heroes progressed into the main storage area of the warehouse. 

The group made their way into the main storage area of the warehouse.  The back of the building was made up of huge loading bays where trucks could pull up and load or unload.  Five Freakshow leaders, recognizable by the full body armor grafted to them, making them more machines than men, lay dead among another ten of their lieutenants.  One or two bits of the huge tesla coils the Stunners wore were still recognizable as was the general shape of the body armor of the leaders, but like the rest of the warehouse, most of the metal had been melted into now solidified puddles.

“Take a look at this,” Shadow Pain said, kneeling over the body of one of the bosses.

Kwang Ghe looked over the fallen Freak, immediately taking note of what had gotten Shadow Pain’s attention.

Shadow Pain held up the remains of the boss’s right arm.  Inside the warped encasement, the flesh ended just below the elbow, a length of now broken steel corded cable had been bolted in place.

“This was Cable,” Pain said.  The Freak had made a name for himself in the Freak-a-lympics years back, then stole a bunch of Rikti tech which he had grafted to himself.  He had sent PhoenixHawk to the hospital once, but was eventually tracked down and put away.  Apparently he went back to his namesake after they removed the Rikti blade from his arm.  He should still have been in the Ziggurat.

            Kwang Ghe nodded towards one of the other fallen bosses.  “This was Nik Nak.  The Sergeant was right, this was a high level meeting.”

“These Freaks were some of Dreck’s most powerful,” Shadow Pain agreed.

“Then who could have walked over them like this?  It had to be a full team, but if it was, wouldn’t someone have seen them?”

“It was not a team,” Shadow Pain replied.

“I believe we should talk to Thauma about this,” Kwang Ghe said.

“I think you’re right.” 

“He just went in there and obliterated them?” Thauma Guard asked.

“There were bodies everywhere,” Shadow Pain replied.  “It looked like someone had gone in there and rolled over them like a freight train.  Not too many of us could have handled all of them solo.”

Thauma nodded.  “Statesman, perhaps, but he would never just kill them like that.”

“Lord Recluse would.  But how would he have started the fires?  Matches?”

“We both know it wasn’t Statesman or Recluse.”

“I know,” Shadow Pain said.  “I just hate to think Tropic’s gone that far over the edge.”

“It may be true.  We still don’t know for sure, but it looks that way.  We need some sort of proof.”

“It’ll turn up.  I get the feeling this won’t be the last incident of its kind.”

“I’m afraid you’re right,” Thauma said.  “I’m going to see if I can get some people to start talking to the contacts Tropic was known to use, see if they’ve had any contact with him.  If we can find out someone sent him into that warehouse, it’ll give us something more concrete.”

“What do we do with it if we get it?”

Thauma’s brow furrowed.  “That’s the real question isn’t it?”

Lady Emily sat on the railing of the ferry as it pulled into the dock on Peregrine Island.  The sun shone overhead, a breeze off the water blew her shoulder length brown hair back from her young face.  She had still been in high school when PhoenixHawk had rescued her from the Crey lab she had snuck into searching for her grandfather.  In the years since she had become a skilled healer, taking to the Tech she had inherited rapidly under the tutelage of the Legendary I Doctor, who had also taken her as his adopted charge until she had come of legal age.

The Archangels had been on the lookout for any signs of Tropic since the lunch meeting a week before.  Very few had seen the now mystery-shrouded Hero since his return from the dead.  Word from the Top Ten was that he spent most of his time with his daughter, whom he had been sent back from the afterlife to save.

            Much of Emily’s work took place through the Portal Corporation, based on Peregrine Island, making her familiar with the area.  It was for this reason she had been chosen for her current task.

            Apart from the main island, only a hundred yards offshore, a huge statue had been built to honor a fallen hero.  At the base of this statue, on any given day, a barrel-chested, dark skinned man in a red suit could be found.  Though always secretive about exactly what division of the government he worked for, Crimson was an authority on the militant mercenary Malta Group.

            Lady Emily flew over the water with the use of a gravity control device attached to her belt, landing not far from the red-clad spy.

            “What can I do for you?” Crimson asked as she approached.

            “I need to ask you some discreet questions,” Emily said.

            “In my line of work, everything is discreet.”

            “I hope not everything, because I need to poke into some of your past work.”

            “I may not be able to help you, then,” Crimson said matter-of-factly.   “But you may ask.”  

            “You’ve heard that Tropic has returned?”

            Crimson nodded.

            “Have you had any contact with him?”

            “Again, I may not be able to help you.”

            “I thought as much,” Emily said.  “I can’t tell you any more about why I’m asking, but there are things I need to know.  I could go to the Hero Corps and get them to issue you orders to divulge the information, but I’d rather not go that far.  I only need to know if he’s come to you, or you’ve sent him out on anything recently.”

            “You’re concerned about the Freakshow incident,” Crimson said.

            “I can’t say why I’m asking.”

            Crimson smiled.  “Contrary to popular Hero opinion of me, I’m not stupid.  I read the reports, and can see why someone would think it was him.  It may well have been, but I can’t say for sure.  What I can say for sure is that Tropic hates me.  I know that is also popular Hero opinion, but Tropic is much more serious about it than most.”

            “Why is that?”

            “I used him for a mission years ago.  He didn’t like the outcome, and told me if I ever called on him again he’d kill me.”

            “And you believed him?”

            “With every bit of my heart,” Crimson said.

            “Do you think he’s capable of that?”

            “Capable?  Of course.  You probably are capable of it.  I’m not much of a fighter, and couldn’t stand up to the weakest of Heroes.”

            “That’s not what I meant.  I meant would he do it?”

            “That, you will have to determine for yourself,” Crimson said.  “Thank you for stopping by.”

            Emily nodded, seeing she had reached the limit of what Crimson would tell her.  It was obvious they weren’t the only ones concerned as to whether Tropic had killed the Freaks.  Evidence seemed to point that way.   She had never met Tropic, but couldn’t see how someone wouldn’t at least make things a little less obvious in committing an act of that nature.  Unless they didn’t care if anyone knew.


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