Review this story                                                            Stories # - L | M - Z | Authors




Chapter Five

    Tropic’s head swiveled right and left, his eyes darting over his surroundings as he tried to gain his bearings. He saw the hills covered with grass and dotted with boulders. Further down the slope were tall buildings and canals fed by the river. Red River, he smiled. He was in Founders Falls. And, he thought, I’m in Louis Forest. Where I…died…

    The hero shook his head, attempting to loosen some of the cobwebs that remained when he noticed the monument. He began to read the raised silver inscription below the burning flame on the gold and silver veined slab of black marble. “On this spot…,” it started. Tropic frowned and raised an eyebrow, turning his fiery gaze some three hundred yards to the left toward a shallow grass covered indentation shaded by a small tree. They didn’t even get the place right, he mused.
   
    He then noticed he was naked…again. He sighed heavily, the exasperation evident in the slumping of his shoulders. He jumped, startled, at the voice almost directly behind him.

    “Oh…my!”

    Tropic spun around, fire forming over his clenched fists and came face to face with two elderly women, both appearing to be in their seventies. The trip they had taken to Hero Park, as it was now being called, had not prepared them for the nude, red-skinned man that had leapt from the monument‘s flaming urn. Their mouths were open in shock and their eyes were glued to a point below his waist.

    Nonplussed, the fiery hero quickly gathered his wits. He smiled, one corner of his lips upturned. “Ladies,” he nodded and rocketed over their heads in the direction of WillowWind’s apartment.

    The women watched silently as he disappeared in the distance. One murmured, “Well, you don’t see something like that everyday.”

    “Yes. It…he…looked every heroic.”

    “Martha!”

    Tropic zoomed between the tall buildings, emerging over William’s Square and gaining altitude. Her apartment was just on the other side of the square, past the rising spire that rested in the center of the grand fountain. He could just make out the windows of WillowWind’s home when he noticed the shattered sliding glass door at her balcony. His lips set in a hard grim line, the fiery hero willed himself faster, a contrail of smoke and flame splitting the afternoon sky.

    “WILLOW!” he bellowed as he landed at the broken window. He rushed in, hands engulfed with flame, and quickly scanned the empty apartment. Broken and overturned furniture littered the large room. Plants, dirt, broken pots and glass were scattered everywhere. Tropic bent and picked up a four sided spiked piece of metal. “Caltrops,” he whispered. Imbedded in the walls were shuriken - throwing stars, their sharp steel points extended like fingers.

    He frowned angrily. “Knives of Artemis,” he said softly. “Willow!” he called again and made his way into the bedroom. It was relatively untouched and much the same as he remembered it. The black carpet, black and iron furniture, the black tile in the bathroom, the huge closet. His eyes were drawn to the crib at the wall and his dark countenance softened. The hero looked in, almost expecting to see the little girl resting there, but it was empty.

    Tropic tugged at his goatee’. There were only three possibilities. Escape, capture or death. He focused on the first two. If it were the latter…his right hand drew itself into a fist. Make this city scream, the voice whispered at the base of his skull. And Tropic answered, “Yes.”

    He sighed and caught his reflection in the large, full length mirror beside the bathroom door. He smiled at himself and his nakedness, realizing he couldn’t go floating through the city in the nude. Tropic opened the doors to the closet and began to rummage through the formidable amount of clothing, hoping to find something to wear. After several moments he pulled out a pair of black spandex pants with leather inserts covering the thighs and calves. He pulled them on and was surprised to find they were just stretchy enough to fit, although the legs only extended to mid calf. He also found a large black leather trench coat, oversized for WillowWind, but it fit him. He couldn’t button it over his chest, but it fit across his shoulders.

    The hero walked back into the ruined living room, shaking his head. His eye caught something on the floor and he picked up a small, black and white stuffed monkey. He stared at it, squeezing it in his hand. My baby, he thought. How do I find her? He slipped the stuffed animal absentmindedly into the coat’s pocket. How do I even start?

    Then the voice spoke up again. You are Power. You are All. You are One.

    And Tropic answered, “Yes.”    

*****

    “MY BABY! MY BABY!” Willow screamed, her arms outstretched towards the receding figures. She tried to take to the air but was still dazed from the explosions. She fell heavily, ripping her glove and scrapping the skin of her right palm and her chin as she hit the rough street.

    Suddenly, a shadow leapt over her. “Goddess! Guide my hand!” Hecate whispered in prayer, and flung her arm forward. A small silver disk sped after the baby and her kidnapper. It struck the Protector on the boot behind her ankle and, as it affixed itself, shimmered and blended into the same color. It was not unnoticeable but if one wasn’t looking for it, it would not be seen. Hecate’s momentum carried her to the ground. She rolled and came immediately to her feet, a heavy sigh escaped her lungs.

    “MY BABY!! WE HAVE TO GET HER!! WE HAVE TO!!” Her eyes wild, Willow turned her tear streaked face to the assassin. “WE HAVE TO!!!”

    Hecate grabbed the heroine’s shoulders and shook her. “That disk was a homing beacon! We can track her! We’ll find her!”

    “WE HAVE TO!! MY BABY!!!” WillowWind was nearly hysterical, ignoring the voice of her new friend, not feeling the hard fingers at her shoulders.

    “We can track her!” Hecate said again, more forcefully. But the words had no effect. Willow continued to struggle, screaming, staring at her child disappearing in the distance. The Hand of Artemis chewed her lower lip for a moment, her eyes growing hard. Then she slapped the distraught woman hard across the cheek, the crack echoing against the buildings.

    Willow’s eyes opened wide, at last calming slightly. “We can track her?”

    “Yes.”

    “We can track her.”

    “Yes,” Hecate said again.

    WillowWind stared hard at the Knife assassin. “We can track her,” she repeated. She rubbed her face where Hecate had struck her. “Don’t you ever hit me again,” she said flatly, her voice dangerous and devoid of emotion.

    Hecate smiled and nodded. From behind her, another voice said, “Sister?”

    The mercenary turned, her expression darkening. Before her stood what remained of the Knives of Artemis who had, moments ago, been trying their best to kill her. Hecate drew her sword and sighed, “So…who’s first?”

*****

    Tropic moved to the balcony and extended his arms out. He closed his eyes, the red glow burning hot behind his eyelids, and saw the city…differently. At first there was blackness, a void of ebony filling his mind’s eye. Then, lines of brilliant blue extended out, racing away into the psychic dark, forming as they went the buildings, the streets and rivers, the people.

    Now came the feelings, the impressions, the touch of fire. He felt the planet’s molten core rolling beneath his feet. Here and there dotting the black blueprint in his mind, tiny spots of blazing white light formed. Every person, hero or villain, in Paragon City whose powers were based in fire, was now know to him. Whether their origins were in magic or technology, mutation or natural, their light sparkled and danced within his mind’s sight. He was Power. He was All. He was One. Lord and Master of the Fatal Primeval.

    In Founders’ Falls he saw a heroine named Fire Stroke. In Talos, a villain named BurnSide prepared to rob a bank. Heat Wave entered City Hall. Flux tackled a Freakshow boss in King’s Row. Tropic saw all of this, everyone of them and more, and still he searched.

    Then he saw her, glowing like a star in the distance, the power emanating from her bringing a smile to his lips. Slowly his grin faded, replaced by stern lips and angered brow. Tropic could feel the waves of fear crashing from the child, staggering him like a slap across the face. The little girl was in the air, flying over…Brickstown, he thought. But where…? The fiery hero expanded his thoughts, reaching after the tiny captive. And then the destination became clear. Tropic dropped his hands and opened his eyes, staring now in the direction of his daughter.

    “Crey’s Folly,” he whispered and launched himself from the balcony, a vengeful comet splitting the summer sky.

*****

    The remaining Knives of Artemis looked warily at Sister Hecate. They held their weapons halfheartedly at the ready but their expressions were more confusion than menace. Hecate noted the looks on the girls faces and lowered her sword a fraction. She had no desire to kill any more of her sisters and, she reasoned, talking cost her nothing. Except time, she thought, sparing a glance to the now empty sky.

    The Knife mercenary who had spoken earlier stepped forward. “S-Sister?” she stammered, “I,” she looked briefly at her comrades, “…I…we don’t…don’t understand.”

    “Explain,” Hecate said, looking down her nose at the girl. She was tall and athletic, her black hair parted in the middle and falling over her ears to just above her shoulders. Her eyes were as dark as her hair, the doubt within them causing her brow to furrow.

    “The Oracle said that the…the child was unwanted…abused.” The girl regarded WillowWind quickly. The heroine had calmed a bit but stood silently, staring at the barren sky, the baby‘s cries still echoing on the wind. Willow’s eyes welled with tears, her face streaked with their sorrowful tracks. The Knife soldier knew enough to know this was not the reaction of a woman who had no love for her child. This was the look of a woman whose heart had been torn from her chest.

    “The Oracle said this?” Hecate asked.

    “Yes, when she told us of the…”

    “The Oracle said this?” Hecate interrupted, lowering her sword completely and fixing her pale blue eyes on the young woman.
 
    The dark haired girl lowered her eyes in thought as the other mercenaries gathered closer, their minds all trying to wrap themselves around the question. Hecate waited silently, allowing the women to come to the answer on their own. She mused that this was the fundamental difference between Helene and herself. Her enemy wanted unquestioning warriors, robotic soldiers to carry out any task no matter the relative right or wrong of it. Hecate wanted them to think, to adapt to any situation and to stand up for ideals beyond their training. Things like honor, duty and the right and wrong of things. While she knew she could not be called a ‘good guy’, honor had a way of pushing one in the correct direction, sometimes in spite of missions or events or even fate. The Hand of Artemis was broken from her reverie by the voice of a warrior.

    “No,” the woman said. “Sister Helene said the Oracle told her.” She was tall, a coiled spring with thick, curly red hair cascading over her shoulders, some pulled into a top knot.

    A girl in the back spoke up. “The Oracle lied to Sister Helene?” The thought that an elite sister could deceive them was still a foreign concept.

    Dark Hair spoke again, this time her black eyes flashed angrily. “No. Sister Helene lied to us.” The silence accompanying the statement was a deep bottomless hole the Knives of Artemis could not now ignore. Confusion rent the faces of the Sisters, having no experience at betrayal of this magnitude. 

    “But…but why?” the assassin said, her voice sounding tiny and close to tears.

    Hecate shrugged and shook her head. “I don’t know, child. Greed, power, envy…any one or all of those plus a thousand more. I cannot say.”

    “We shall tell the sisters of this treachery,” the redhead spat. “We’ll find Helene and make her pay for…”

    “No,” Hecate ordered. “You shall not.”

    “What? Why?” The Knives looked at each other in grim confusion.

    Hecate’s gaze fell on each of them. “What proof do we have? Will they believe us? Helene has her followers. Who are they? And what of the Oracle? Is she alive, dead?” She shook her head again, sighing. “We must be smart. If not there will be war between us,” she looked at the dead Knives of Artemis laying in the street, “and I have killed too many of my children today.”

    The remaining Knives stood quietly, their eyes shifting between each other when the Dark Hair spoke again. “Honored Sister.” The Knives of Artemis dropped to one knee in front of Sister Hecate. “What will we do?”

    Hecate smiled sadly at the women before her. ‘Honored Sister’ was a title worn like a medal. It was rarely used and reserved for the bravest, the best of the Sisterhood, the highest honor they could bestow - a name. The assassin shook her head. “First, get up.” When they were all standing, she nodded at the dark haired girl. “Rilla, yes?”

    The girl bowed slightly in acknowledgement. “Yes, sister.”

    “Gather up our dead, return home with them and make sure they are sent to their rest with the highest accolades.”

    “Even Sister Mari?” Rilla asked. “She was Helene’s lieutenant and stood against…”

    “Yes, she was…misguided…but she fought well and died bravely. She deserves her place.” Hecate nodded to the women. “I’m sure Sister Helene has returned to our island and woven a fine tale. Protect yourselves. Tell them that we,” she gestured at WillowWind, “disappeared in the chaos.”

    “Understood,” Rilla said. “But what about our sisters? They are following one not worthy. How can we…”

    Hecate waived her hand at the women. “Do nothing until I return. There will be a reckoning, have no fear.” She chewed her lower lip for a moment. “You know my daughters?”

    The Knives nodded and several voices answered: “I spar with Sabine.” “Drea has taught me striking.” “Vicca has aided me with the bow.”

    Sister Hecate raised her had to silence them. “Good, good. Seek them out and tell them this: ‘The truth is not forsaken, only delayed.’ Then keep your eyes open and watch for my return.” She smiled warmly. “Go.” As one, the Knives of Artemis saluted. Within seconds, they were gone, the living and the dead. Not a trace remained of their presence or passing.

    Hecate stood beside Willow, who had not moved, still staring silently into the sky. The assassin’s hand opened a compartment on her belt and drew forth a small device which looked like a mp3 player. She pressed it several times with her thumb then held it at arm‘s length . It beeped once.

    “Crey’s Folly,” the Hand of Artemis said quietly.

    “Crey’s Folly,” WillowWind whispered, then grasped the mercenary by the arms and leapt into the air, rocketing across the ether, energy crackling furiously in their wake.

*****

    Tropic landed on the roof of the nondescript brick building, the flame surrounding his body snuffing out as his feet touched its surface. He quickly eyed the roof and the surrounding buildings. Scaffolding crisscrossed between and around the nearby structures, round silos of red metal dotted the landscape, their coned points poking into the sky like sharp pencils. The building he stood on was approximately six stories high. Exhaust vents were placed every few feet, white vaporous fumes escaped from the round holes in rapid waves of toxicity.

    The whole zone, from the moment one entered until the moment they left, filled the nostrils and lungs with the acrid taste of copper. The water stood still and tepid, a misty green devoid of life except for the unnatural monstrosities calling themselves the Devouring Earth, horrid perversions of flora and stone, loyal only to the land and only existing to reclaim it from its affliction: humanity.

    The fiery hero frowned, lips pursed with anger. He stalked across the roof to what appeared to be an air conditioning unit squatting almost at the rooftop’s center. It stood waist high, silver with vents cut into the metal exterior and was a bit wider than his shoulders. Teeth clenched, Tropic gripped the sides of the construct. Waves of heat radiated from his hands and, as his fingers touched the hard surface, they sunk in, melting into the cold steel. With a grunt, Tropic ripped the unit up and away, the screech of torn metal echoed over the building. He tossed it to the side and without a glance, dropped into the jagged hole that remained.

    He landed at the end of a polished corridor. Its bright metal walls curved up from the bright metal floor. Its grayness was awash with florescent light, long bulbs that ran continuously down the ceilings center. Perhaps twenty feet ahead the passageway bent to the left and he marched purposely around the bend, without fear or caution.    

    Three Crey personnel looked up in surprise at the hero. A Cryo tank, a Voltaic tank - through their armor able to generate withering cold and limitless electrical current respectively - and an Operations Engineer - a weapons expert possessing the ability to construct an auto-fire machine gun turret in less than five seconds.

    A pregnant silence filled the hallway and then Tropic screamed, fire erupting from his lips. “WHERE’S MY DAUGHTER?!?”

    The Voltaic tank was the first to react, leaping into the air, arms stretched above his head. His armor crackled, great arcs of electricity spun over him, white against silver. As his feet touched the ground, the tank swung his arms down, slamming them into the polished flooring. A cone of energy flowed forth, buzzing hotly over the metal, frying everything in its path.

    But Tropic was too quick. When the Voltaic tank’s arms hit the floor the fiery hero was already in the air, heat spiraling over his hovering form. Red fire blasted from both hands, concentric circles of flaming force rippled out, impacting the floor directly in front of the electric minion.

    `The tank was unprepared, smugly assuming his power suit could handle the barefoot hero. He was swept off his feet, roughly striking the gleaming corridor’s deck. The armor clad villain slid uncontrollably down the hall, the burnished metal suit not allowing any purchase for his flailing arms and legs to stop the headlong tumble.

    Ahead was an intersection of passageways. At its center three columns stood around a computer console. The Voltaic tank rumbled directly into them, his helmet clanging against a column. The sound of a small crack went unheard and the armored man lay still, his head at an unnatural angle.

    “HERO INCURSION! I SAY AGAIN, WE HAVE META-HUMAN INCURSION AT LEVEL EIGHT!” The Operations Engineer was screaming into his radio. He dropped to his knee and suddenly an Auto-turret took shape and chattered to life. The hall was filled with the crisp braka-braka-braka of automatic fire.

    The Cryo tank took aim and fired a blast of super cooled air at the hero. Tropic grunted as icy cold surrounded his chest, instantly turning to huge chunks of ice. Bursting into flame, the ice melted from him immediately. He felt a sting in his left side followed by another in his shoulder. Fire erupted from the two holes where the .50 caliber slugs struck him. The lead melted inside his body and the tongues of flame snuffed out, healing the wounds and sealing the red skin, leaving it unmarked.

    Tropic threw his arm out, an arc of fire leaping from his palm and rolling over the low ceiling. The Cryo tank ducked out of the way and the Operations Engineer screamed “NO!”  leaping to the side. Unfortunately, he leapt directly into the path of the auto-turret, its barrels sweeping up, bullets churning from its dual muzzles. The man hung in midair, his body jerking wildly as the cartridges slammed into him. His flak jacket stopped the slugs at his chest, but the turrets kept moving, the lead chewing up his legs and arms, finally moving to his head which seemed to simply disintegrate. At last the chattering stopped, its magazine spent, and the engineer fell mercifully to the floor.

    Near the prone body of the Voltaic tank, two more Crey minions appeared from the passage intersection. Tropic could see one was a Crey Medic, the other was a Research Assistant. Of the two, the Researcher was the most important. If there were any experiments or projects active within the facility, he would know. The hero grinned slightly, the small smile disappearing as he ducked a wave of frigid air. He saw the Medic kneel beside the motionless tank and the fire blaster realized he had to act quickly, unwilling to risk the healer being able to revive the downed man.

    From Tropic’s hands two razor-like beams shot forth. One struck at the Cryo tank, piercing the man’s armor at his left side. The other hit the Medic at the back of his skull and exited almost exactly between his eyes. The man fell forward onto the Research Assistant, knocking him over and momentarily pinning him to the shiny floor.

    The Cryo tank grinned beneath his helmet. The beam had missed his body altogether, only striking his armor. His hidden expression turned to confusion, then to slowly dawning horror as the heads-up display near his left eye noted the rapid loss of liquid nitrogen. He quickly became aware of the mist rising from his side and his jaw dropped in open mouthed terror. The hero had ruptured the suit’s carefully balanced nitrogen power cell and the super-cooled air surrounded him in a deadly white haze.

    Tropic stared for a moment then, lips sneering, fired an enormous ball of fire at the tank. It rolled towards him, a churning sphere of red, yellow and black, filling the corridor with waves of hellish heat.

    “NO!!!” the Cryo tank screamed and threw his arms over his face, trying in vain to shield himself from the inevitable. When the blistering, violent heat met with the raw, glacial cold only one thing could happen. The Cryo tank shattered into a thousand red-misted pieces which fell to the cold metal floor with a crisp clatter.

    Tropic looked at the remains of the tank briefly then turned his phlegmatic gaze to the Research Assistant. The man was just kicking the dead legs of the Medic from him. He looked at the blazing eyes of the hero and kicked a little faster.
   
    The fiery hero bounded toward the researcher and stood over him, teeth clenched, his countenance set in hard anger. “Where is she?” his voice rasped, little more than a whisper, but filling every bit of the corridor.

    “What?…I don’t…I…,” the Research Assistant stammered, eyes wide and casting about fearfully.

    Tropic frowned and gripped the man by his shirt, hoisting him from the ground and holding him face to face and almost nose to nose. The flame flowed hot and red from his eyes and the air around him wavered like hot Arizona asphalt. “Listen to me, you little, little man, and you may well end this day as you began it…alive.” He pulled the helpless man closer, the heat around his body intensifying. “Where…is…the girl?”

    The researcher’s jaw opened, his mouth moved, his eyes wide. “She’s…she…two…two levels down…but I’m…I don’t…,” he finally croaked out.

    The hero released the terrified man, throwing him roughly aside. The Crey minion skittered away until his back was pressed against the cool steel wall. Tropic gazed for a moment at the elevator at the end of the passageway then, with a brief glance at the frightened man, said, “For your assistance, I give you this advice. Run…and don’t stop.” Without another word, the red skinned blaster stalked deliberately to the bank of elevators.

    The Research Assistant sat unmoving on the floor. After a while, he stood. And then, he ran.

*****

    WillowWind and Hecate landed on the roof of a tall building, the small tracking device pinging and pointing to the brick building across a debris cluttered street. The two women hurried to the roof’s ledge and looked over to their target’s entrance, their mouth’s turning to grim frowns. The doors were guarded by several Crey minions: two Crey Protectors - hard to hurt armor clad soldiers that carried enough firepower to stop a tank, a Crisis Unit - well-equipped munitions handlers able to handle any situation, plus a variety of Riot and Patrol Guards - security agents armed with standard law enforcement weapons. At least eight clustered around the doors talking, walking back and forth or just generally in the way.

    The hero and the assassin watched as a man in a lab apron fled the entry and ran headlong down the street, the eyes of the guards trailing behind him. Lips set, Hecate nodded, “All right. You wait here and I’ll deal with this. When I’m done we’ll…”

    “What?” Willow asked through clenched teeth. “Why? I’m not going to wait up here!”

    “No. Its just that…”

    “What? Are you going to betray me?!? Is that it?” Energy began to crackle over the heroine’s hands. “Is that what this all is about?”

    Hecate’s jaw dropped. “No! That’s ridiculous. I just don’t want…”

    “Then why? I can take them…and you if I need to. That’s my baby I have…”

    “No, its because…”

    “Why?” WillowWind’s eyes flashed white. “Why?”

    “Because…because…I’m a killer…and you’re not.” Hecate looked away from the woman, staring unseeing at the enemies below her.

    Willow’s head moved back a bit, her raised eyebrow making the question mark shaped scar around her eye more pronounced. This was not the answer she expected. She paused for a moment then stepped forward speaking softly, “I think the time has come for truth between us.” The assassin looked up briefly. “Why are you doing this…helping me?”

    Sister Hecate sighed, a slight shrug of her shoulders dancing over her. She chewed her lower lip and then stared over the nearby buildings. “I was born in the year 1544 after the death of the Christ, as time is reckoned. Whether it was my own path that led me to the Goddess or if she found me…I cannot say. I first met him…Tropic…a year after your states’ war of rebellion.”

    “The Civil War?” Willow asked.

    “As you say. We were at cross purposes. My Sisterhood and his masters had sent us both after the same target. He was unlike any man I had known up to that point, not only in appearance but in manner and ability. He made an…impression. Our paths did not come together again until a decade later, in Moscow. We…we were together after that for more than thirty years. I think it was…we were happy.”

    “And the Knives didn’t object?”

    Hecate smiled. “There were rumblings but by then I had rank and rank has privileges. And there are very few people who can tell an Elite Sister what to do. Besides, there were those who recognized he could be a powerful ally.” She shook her head at her tightly held memories. “But there comes a time when a woman wants more and the decisions of her youth seem reckless and thoughtless with the passage of time.”

    Willow remained silent, unwilling to interrupt the warrior. She was learning a great deal more than she anticipated about her new friend and the father of her child as well. “Go on,” she said quietly.

    “I have power, strength, skill, long life,” Hecate looked wistfully into the sky, “but there was…the Goddess…there was a price to pay that meant nothing to me then but now…” Sadness rippled over the assassin’s face so quickly if Willow had blinked she would have missed it. Sister Hecate shook her head once then said. “I cannot have children.”

    Suddenly it all made sense to the heroine. WillowWind stepped closer to the roof’s ledge, staring intently at the building that held her daughter. “She’s what might have been,” the heroine said softly, turning her head to look at the Knife warrior.

    Hecate shrugged. “In a way, I suppose, but what I said before is true. Tropic was an honorable man, a fine warrior, foe and friend alike.”

    “You were in love with him,” Willow smiled.

    Sister Hecate smiled in return. “I’ve loved him since before you were born.” She looked at the building across the street silently.
   
    Willow sighed heavily and rubbed her forehead. Finally she looked at the assassin and said, “You’re right. I’m no killer. But I have killed before and, because of what I do, I’ll have to make that decision again.” The heroine eyed the guards below. “But my baby is in there and I’ll kill anyone who gets between us. If I have to I’ll pull that building down around their ears.” WillowWind stared directly into Hecate’s eyes, an intense no-nonsense glare that almost caused the assassin to take a step backward. “We do this together or I’ll do it alone, but you’re not going to do it on your own.”

    Hecate met Willow’s glare and nodded. “All right. Prepare yourself. We are not going to try to arrest them, hold them for the authorities or render them unconscious. They will be doing their best to kill us so if we can, we will kill them first.” She looked over the ledge at the enemy. “I’ll take the two Protectors. You take the Crisis Unit and we’ll eliminate the soldiers as we go, clear?”

    Willow nodded grimly, staring at her feet.

    “Remember,” Hecate placed her hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Careful dies, reckless kills.”

    WillowWind nodded again then looked up at Hecate, her lips smiling crookedly. “And Hecate was the goddess of fertility,” Willow chided.

    The Hand of Artemis raised an eyebrow. “Well, I never said the gods didn’t have a sense of humor.” Hecate glanced at the street below. “Can you carry me again?”

    “You have a plan,” Willow grinned.

    “Of course.”

    “…so you just give me the money,” the Crey Protector was saying, weapon dangling loosely from his hand as he talked to the Riot Guard. “I got a guy in Brickstown. He got a line on a pony, man…easy money.”

    The guard shrugged, “I don’t know. It’s a big risk. My girlfriend’ll kill me if she finds out I…”

    “Ahhh, whipped, that’s what you are,” the Protector laughed. The other soldiers snickered in the background. “Grow some stones, buddy. You’ll never see no woman push me around. They know not to mess wit…” His voice trailed off as a shadow passed overhead and oddly seemed to grow larger. The Protector looked skyward and scrambled to raise his weapon.

    Above, WillowWind had grasped Hecate by the wrists and flew over the street. She dove straight down, skirting the edge of the Crey facility. When she reached the third floor, the heroine released the Knife mercenary.

    Hecate drew her sword and slipped her knife into her left hand as she fell. She hit the ground rolling forward, ending directly in front of the gambling Protector. With a flick of her wrist she sent the knife across the sidewalk into the head of his partner. The assassin rose to her feet, the sword trailing up before her, slicing the Protector through his Kevlar armor, into his body and out past his neck, a crimson arc following the silver-metal path.

    Willow landed before the Crisis Unit, his silver armor gleaming in the late afternoon sun. She let the momentum of her fall push her into a crouch and she sprung up, her right hand encased in a nimbus of rippling white energy. The heroine willed it to come to a point extending from her fingertips. She drove up, the hard crackling energy striking the Unit below his chin, into his neck and through his brain.

    Behind her she heard steel on steel and flesh, the grunts and cries of the Crey minions and the silence of the assassin. Willow began to turn when pain exploded through her back. Stars danced darkly within her head and from the corner of her eye she saw the Patrol Guard raise his police baton for another strike. The heroine spun around and drove her left fist into the man’s midsection. A white cone of energy was clearly visible bending back over her fist as the concussive force of the blow flung the guard careening across the street and into the sixth floor of a building. The impact sent bricks and mortar crumbling into the sky and tumbling to the street along with the flopping body of the Crey operative.

    The heroine grimaced, flexing the muscles in her back, ready to rejoin the fight. She watched as Hecate’s shoulder barely moved, her palm driving up almost imperceptibly into a Patrol Guard’s jaw. The man dropped motionless at the assassin’s feet.

    The street was littered with the bloody dead and unconscious and the groaning wounded. Hecate pulled her knife from the forehead of one of the Protectors and wiped it on his uniform. She looked sidelong at WillowWind, a questioning look on her face. “What?”

    Willow shrugged. “You’re quick,” she said, gazing at the downed enemies.

    “An admirable quality in assassins,” the Knife of Artemis smiled a little evil smile.

    “Heh,” Willow snorted and turned to the Crey lab’s door. “Ready?”

    Sister Hecate nodded and two women wearing the same cold expression entered the building .


TO CHAPTER 6 >



    Review this story