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From the Ashes

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Chapter 4

            “The question is: why would he kill them?” Thauma Guard asked.  She, Skida, and Lady Emily were sitting on the fifteenth story ledge of an office building overlooking Atlas Park.  Pedestrians moved below, oblivious to the women sitting in what most people would consider an insane place.

            The wind carried warmth on it, foreshadowing the approaching summer.  Towering white clouds boiled slowly, darkening towards gray, possibly bringing thunderstorms that often moved quickly through on summer afternoons. 

It had been a month since Numina had set the Onami Strike Force, who had invited the Archangels, upon their mission, and they had turned up surprising little evidence.  Tropic had returned from death not six months prior, sent back by the Goddess Artemis to save his daughter.  There was still no proof that he was behind the cooked villains, but the evidence leaned heavily in that direction.

“Did they have anything to do with his daughter’s kidnapping?”

“Not the Freaks,” Emily said.  “Cable and two of the others escaped the Zig during that big riot about a year ago.  The others were on the outside gathering their strength.”

“For what?”

“To take on Dreck,” Skida said.

Thauma took in a deep breath and leaned back against the wall of the building.

“Dreck could have hired someone to take them out.”

Skida nodded, her blond hair dropping across one eye.

“Yeah, but who?  Who could have taken them all down solo?”

“And the police said a Hero had gone in after them,” Emily added.

“We know it was him,” Thauma said.

Both of the other women nodded in agreement.

“Would he sell out to Dreck?”

Skida shook her head.  “I don’t know.  The stories say he’s done a lot of bad things in the three thousand years he’s been around.”

Emily took a couple of small tech toys from her belt, looking at them, holding them next to each other.  The devices she had inherited from her grandfather, and the knowledge he had past on to her about their engineering, strengthened her organizational nature.  Often when she contemplated something, she would look at the devices in her hands and envision them as the pieces of whatever she was working on.

“We just don’t have all of the pieces,” she said.

“You’re right, we don’t,” Thauma said.  “Is there anyone else we can think of to talk to?”

“Indigo?”

“Nova 1 went out to Founder’s the other day to speak to her.  According to her, Tropic hasn’t been by to see her lately.  Nova said she sounded sad about it.”

“I’m surprised he wouldn’t talk to her at least,” Skida said.  “Rumor has it they had a history, and she’s a specialist on the Knives, who went after his daughter to begin with.”

“We’re just going around in circles,” Emily said.  “We just need to keep looking, see what pops up.  It’s not like we’re on a time frame for this, are we?”

Thauma shook her head.  “Not that I know of, but I’d like to know what happened before anyone else gets cooked in a furnace.”

 

When Thauma got to her apartment, she found a note had been slipped under her door.  It said if she wanted some information about the Freakshow incident, she should go to Pocket D at three o’clock.  She quickly locked the apartment back up, then leapt off towards King’s Row, the closest known entrance to the strange bar run by a very strange DJ.

The clouds continued to darken, thunder rolled in the distance from time to time as she quickly moved towards the industrial district.  King’s Row was made up mostly of warehouses, more and more of which were beginning to be used as the Garment Works came back to life.

Thauma smiled to herself.  It had been years since the end of the Rikti war, and finally some of the economic devastation was starting to clear up.

In an alley between two single story warehouses a moving van sat, guarded by a behemoth in a black tank top.  The man’s arms were bigger than most men’s thighs.  Thauma moved purposefully down the alley towards the van.  The guard stood up and opened the large, swinging back door, beyond which lay only darkness.  Thauma stepped into the van and found herself in the entryway to Pocket D.

The tile floor was clean, the air crisp.  The thumping beat of techno music made its way through the floor.  A floating Arachnos Drone, the mechanical menaces used by Lord Recluse, hovered near the elevator.

Pocket D was a haven for all who chose to enter.  Bouncers moved around nonchalantly on every floor, not threatening, only adding a formidable presence.  Had they been average humans, most of the clientele would have laughed at this, but that never happened. 

Something about the air of the place, and the DJ himself, radiated a power.  There was no challenge in it, but it filled the air and everyone knew if they stepped out of line an unimaginable Hell would break loose.  Thus, Villains and Heroes sat side by side at the bar, danced near one another, and not a single altercation took place.

Thauma moved to one of the many bars on the second floor, sitting next to a man wearing a leather vest, a black bandana, and torn jeans with another bandana in the back pocket.  ‘Warriors’ was emblazoned across the man’s back.

“I wasn’t sure you were going to come,” the Warrior said.

“Your note said you have some information about the Freakshow that were killed in Steel Canyon.”

The Warrior nodded.  “What I’m going to tell you doesn’t leave this bar.”

“That’s part of the unwritten rules.  If it’s said here in confidence, it stays here.”

“Right.”

“So tell me.”

“You know the Warriors tangle with the Freaks quite a bit.”

“Talos Island isn’t really big enough for both of you,” Thauma said.

“Right.  So we find this group of Freaks pulling an ATM out of the wall late one night.  We let them get the thing out, then we hit them.”

“Let them do the heavy work, and take the loot.  Nice.”

“I’m not asking for your approval.”

“You’re right,” Thauma said.  “I’m sorry.”

“So we take the Freaks down, and I find this note on one of them, it talks about this kid with red skin and black hair, and how she might be used to get bring in some muscle against Dreck.”

“What kind of muscle?”

“It didn’t say.  It just said that she could be valuable, and there were folks out there ready to pay a high price to get their hands on her.”

“Did you take the note to Dreck?”

The Warrior snorted.  “Hell no.  I don’t want anything to do with that nutjob.  His people want to try to take him down, that’s fine with me.  Let them kill each other off, make it easier for us to clean them up.”

“So what did you do with it?”

“Well, I know who the note is talking about.  That fire spree the Hellions went on years back, Tropic helped me save a bunch of kids from one of the burning buildings.”

“Tropic helped you.  You saved a bunch of kids.”

The Warrior leaned back on his barstool.  “Look, lady, you and I may not see eye to eye on questions of law, but I’m not heartless.  Those kids didn’t do anything to anyone, they don’t deserve to be burned alive in some office building.”

“You’re right, they didn’t.  It was very honorable of you to help them.”

“I have a soft spot for kids.”

“So you told Tropic.”

“Yeah, I did.”

“How did you find him?”

“Capes don’t all disappear into the woodwork.  He lives in Talos Island.  All of us know where.”

“Why would you care where he lives?”

“So we know where to stay away from.”

 

At seven-thirty local television stations broke from their scheduled programs, going live to an office building in Brickstown where smoke billowed into the night, flames from several fires inside the building illuminating the steam rising from the recently rained upon streets.  The building was surrounded by police vehicles, lights flashing blue and red strobes dancing on the surrounding buildings.  Radios crackled, voices coming through in an unintelligible cacophony.

The NyteHawk, Father Stug, and Sharuk Haashkar made their way through the police to the front of the building.  Three Heroes, a man and two women, were standing at the door, talking to a plain-clothes Detective.  NyteHawk drew back the hood from his head, his spiked orange hair almost glowing in the bizarre lighting.

The man stopped speaking to the Detective and nodded to the Onami members.

“Johnny Cognito,” the man said, offering his hand to the NyteHawk, who took it in his firm grip.  “Top Ten.  This is WillowWind and Miyaka.”

The NyteHawk introduced his companions and asked what had happened.

Cognito looked briefly at his companions, something crossing between them showed briefly in their eyes.

“Uh, someone went in and wiped out a bunch of Crey.”

“Someone?” Father Stug asked.

The larger of the two women, dark haired and fair skinned, looked almost nervous.  “Nobody saw who.”

“Would you like some assistance?”

The three members of the Top Ten said “No,” at the same time.

Sharuk Haashkar looked at the Detective, who shrugged as if he simply couldn’t understand these capes sometimes.

“You guys seem kind of frazzled,” The NyteHawk said.

Johnny Cognito looked over his shoulder at the door, then back.  “It’s really a mess in there.”

“That’s part of the job,” Sharuk said.

“Yeah, but not like this,” Cognito said.

The NyteHawk frowned, his brow furrowed above his glowing blue eyes.  The veins that covered his black, armor-like skin glowed the same blue as the that coursed through him.  Dark magic symbols could be seen tattooed across his bare shoulders.

“You guys fought that Circle of Thorns Beast.”

“Don’t remind me,” Miyaka said.

“Took years of therapy to get the visions out of my head,” Cognito added.

“How about we just take a look around inside,” Father Stug said.

“We’ve got this covered,” WillowWind said.

Before anyone could stop him, the NyteHawk stepped quickly through the door into the building, his teammates right on his heels.

“Ok, but I want to see what’s so bad.”

WillowWind made a move towards the Onami members, but Johnny stopped her.  As the door closed behind him, the NyteHawk heard her say, “Damn it.”

The devastation in the Crey office building was nearly identical to the warehouse where the Freakshow had been slaughtered.  Burn marks scored the walls, holes burned or smoldered everywhere.  Anything metal seemed to have been held under a blowtorch, melting from the extreme heat.

Several of Crey’s ‘Tank’ suits, and their wearers, had been obliterated.  The suits the twisted corporation had developed simulated the powers of Heroes, allowing the wearers to lash out with blasts of electricity or raw power.  The armored plating and helmets also protected the wearers from massive amounts of damage.  The suits had been reduced to twisted and charred ruin.

Amongst the dead were a few of Crey’s Paragon Protectors, the clones created from genetic material stolen from fallen or captured Heroes.  Brought up with nothing more than service to Crey for memories and mindset, the Paragon Protectors knew little or nothing of fear, and could be as tough as any Hero.  They could also be charred into foul smelling, smoking corpses as the office evidenced.

“This is bad,” Father Stug said. 

“But not bad enough to get those three out front as freaked out as they were,” the NyteHawk replied.  “If they were as shell-shocked as they let on, they’d be too shy to stay in this business.”

“Something else about this has made them nervous,” Sharuk said.

“Let’s go ask them about it,” Father Stug said.

“Ask who about what?” Johnny Cognito asked from behind them.

“Ask you why this has you so nervous,” the NyteHawk said.  “Sure this is nasty, but you’ve seen worse.  Why does this bother you three so much?”

“If you’ve seen the things we have, it might bother you, too.”

“We have,” Father Stug said.  “And it doesn’t.  What are you trying to hide?”

WillowWind looked as though she’d been slapped.

“We’re not hiding anything,” she snapped.  “What the hell do you mean, asking us something like that.”

“Just what it sounds like,” Father Stug replied.  “There’s no reason for you to be as worked up about this as you are, but you are.  It’s not rational, so tell me something that is.”

Johnny Cognito put a hand on WillowWind’s shoulder, trying to turn her away.  “Come on.  If they’re going to accuse us of something, we don’t need to talk to them.”

WillowWind looked as though she was ready to lash out at the Onami members.  The veins coursing through the NyteHawk’s upper body flared slightly brighter.

Miyaka’s hand went to the hilt of the Katana at her hip. 

Father Stug’s assault rifle fell into his hand, hanging at his side.

Johnny Cognito urged his teammates away.  “Just forget about this.  We can clean it up, we were here first.”

WillowWind and Miyaka stared at the Onami members for several seconds then turned briskly away, stalking out of the building, following Johnny Cognito.

The NyteHawk let out a sigh.  “Whew.  I didn’t really want to start slugging it out with them.”

“You’ve never backed down from a fight,” Father Stug said.

“I wasn’t going to back down.  It’s just that we’re supposed to be on the same team.”

“They weren’t being team players,” Sharuk said.  “They knew something about what happened here, and were hiding it.”

“I suppose we’ll just have to find out what,” Father Stug said.

TO CHAPTER 5 >

 


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