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From the Ashes

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Chapter 5

          

            Kwang Ghe leaned back, the boot’s heel swept through the space his head had just occupied, inches from his nose.  He exploded into motion before the Council member’s foot hit the floor, his own kicks raining upon the neo-nazi.

            Khazm fought nearby, one of the Council’s robotic Mek men and another of the mercenaries standing inside the dark aura of power that surrounded the horned scrapper.  His ghostly voice echoed around him, laughing amidst the energy of the fight.  His fists lashed out in flurries, shadowy power radiating, draining the energy from his enemies.

            The mercenary Council, based on the island of Striga, had built many bases secretly under the streets of Paragon City, burrowing tunnels and setting up computer and lab equipment, working to further their grip on the City.  Much of their advance in power came through stolen Ritki technology, with which they had constructed machines and weapons, spreading their ‘cause’ through violence as often as not.

            Two Hoverbots, machines constructed through the Council’s tech advances, hovered into the tunnel, launching a volley of missiles at the embattled Heroes.  Riding on vapor trails, the rockets screamed through the air, turning away at last instant, detonating on the cave walls, deflected by the shimmering field that sprung up around the Heroes.

            Thauma Guard threw her arms down, a cloud of dark energy sprouting from the ground around the Council members’ feet, solidifying into howling tentacles that wrapped themselves around the neo-nazis’ legs, trapping them, allowing the Kwang Ghe and Khazm to knock them quickly from the fight.  Thauma nodded to her companions before leaping off to help the other team members, leaving the scrappers to take out the Hoverbots.

            Across the vast, open cave, moving through scaffolding, computer equipment, and loads of weaponry, Nova 1, Sir Kit, and Tirus fought the remaining Freakshow members left standing in the base. 

            Two of the Council members who had been mutated by experiments into pseudo-vampires lay at the feet of the Freaks, cut down by the blades two of the Freaks had grafted to their arms.  Another pair of the Freakshow lashed out at the Heroes around them with electrical arcs, coursing through the gang members bodies from the huge tesla coils strapped to the Juicers’ backs.

            More blue arcs of electricity reached back at the Freaks, the implants in Sir Kit’s body channeling the power in tight, dancing beams.  Shafts of fire washed over the Freaks, Nova 1’s hands wreathed in flame.

            The blade wielding Freakshow Slashers rushed the pair of Heroes, only to be sent reeling and spinning, tumbling off balance as a sheet of slick ice formed beneath their feet.

            Thauma landed behind the trio of her teammates, wrapping them in bubbles of protective green energy.

            The previous six weeks had seen the Onami Strike Force, working together with Archangels, strengthen once again into a cohesive unit. News had spread throughout Paragon City, the contacts the Super Group had used once again began calling upon them for various tasks.  Since the Freakshow, and then the Crey Lab attacks, they had found no sign of Tropic or the vengeance it was suspected he had be bringing upon some of the city’s most powerful villains.

            Celsius Bane had received a call in the base the Archangels of the Apocalypse had been granted, the Freakshow had launched a large raid on a Council base. The Freaks had underestimated the Council’s strength, but not by much.  The fighting had been harsh, wiping out many of the gang members on both sides.  The Heroes had arrived at the base only to clean up the remaining gang members.

            The Freakshow were put down quickly when Kwang Ghe and Khazm showed up to add their strength.  Moving through the base the Heroes came upon a final Council member, the rank insignia of Archon upon his uniformed shoulders, surrounded by eight fallen Freakshow members.  He stood defiantly as the Heroes approached.

            Thauma Guard moved to the front of the group.  “Lay down your arms.  This is finished.”

            “Only this base is finished,” The Archon replied.  “We have many more.”

            “Not forever.”

            “The Council will prevail, and not you, nor these pitiful Freakshow can stop us.”

            “Why would the Freakshow try to stop you?” Kwang Ghe asked.  “Their territory and yours do not cross.”

            “They believed we had attacked them several weeks ago.”

            Thauma almost took a step back, her mind racing.

            “I haven’t heard of the Council hitting the Freaks recently.”

            “We haven’t.”

            “So why would they think that?” Sir Kit asked.

            “Because it is what they were led to believe.”

            “By whom?” Thauma asked.

            “Dreck,” the Archon replied.  As he had been speaking, he had been inching his way backwards, until he stood upon a trap door.  His hand shot out, hitting a hidden switch, and disappeared down a secret tunnel. 

            Try as they might, the Heroes could not open the trap door.  The Archon had escaped.

 

            Back at the Archangels base, Thauma and Skida sat at a large round table.

            “What the hell is going on here, T?”

            “I don’t know,” Thauma replied.  “We both know it was Tropic who hit the Freakshow and Crey.  The Freaks he hit were meeting to plot against Dreck.  Why would Dreck want to avenge them?”

            Skida shook her head.  “He wouldn’t.”

            “So why would he send his minions in after the Council?  Why would he tell them the Council had been responsible for the attack?”

            “To cover for who really did it.”

            “Which, again, we believe was Tropic.  Why would Dreck cover for Tropic?”

            “You don’t think they’re working together, do you?”

            It was Thauma’s turn to shake her head.  “I can’t believe that.  I think news like that couldn’t stay hidden for ten minutes.”

            “So, why?  What is Dreck up to?”

            “Maybe he thinks he can’t let an attack on his people go unanswered, and had to find someone to blame.”

            “I don’t think that’s it,” Thauma said.

            Skida put her head on her folded hands and closed her eyes.  She sat, unmoving and silent, for several minutes, then sat up suddenly.

            “He’s trying to divert any investigation away from Tropic.”

            “Why?”

            “Because he’s behind the whole thing.”

            “What?”

            “He knew his lieutenants were plotting against him, he had to take them out.  So he plants a note on one of them, knowing it would get back to Tropic, and he would do anything to protect his daughter.”

            “And Tropic does just that, hits the Freaks, and Crey because the note says they’ll pay for the baby.”

            “Right,” Skida said.  “Only now we show up looking into the Crey attack, and it spooks Dreck, thinking we’ll find out about it and it’ll get back to him.  If Tropic finds out that he was set up, he’ll go ballistic, so he sends his people in, hoping it turn us away.”

            “But he didn’t expect us to get there before his people had wiped out the base, or talk to that Archon.”

            “I think we’d better find out what Tropic thinks about this before it blows up again.”

            “How are we supposed to do that?  We can’t ask him about it, that would let him know we’re looking into it.”

            “I have an idea,” Thauma said.

 

            The wind blew steadily across Talos Island, the air rich with the smells of the sea.  High-rise buildings towered throughout the inner part of the small island, the coast made up of beaches and shipping docks.  To the west, through a tunnel in the shield wall lay Skyway City, and its layers of elevated highways.  South was Founder’s Falls, an area nearly untouched by the Rikti War, but also not far from Astoria, where the Banished Pantheon shaman held sway, using the dark power of the gods they prayed to to shroud the area in eternal fog and huge roving groups of undead.

            What wasn’t shipping ports tended towards white collar business.  Venture capital and high-tech firms filled the skyscrapers, overlooked by the statue of Talos, the titanic, horned Hero for whom the island had been named.  It was said that the island had been created during a battle between Talos and the Chimera, which opened up a rift beneath the sea, letting rock and lava spill forth to create the land mass.

            Thauma Guard knew if she looked, she could find the apartment where Tropic lived, but wasn’t ready to confront him just yet.  She leapt from the top of the Green Line train station, across a low hill onto the ledge of one of the towering buildings.  She scanned the area, then leapt off to the north and west, moving across the tops of the lower stores, Skida Marink one jump behind.

            Moving towards one of the dock areas Thauma spotted a group of Warriors outside of a small, one story warehouse.  The four gang members hands went to weapons as the two Heroines landed a few feet away.

            “I need to see Warblade,” Thauma told the group.

            “Yeah? About what?” one of the long haired, leather vested men asked.

            “About none of your business.”

            “Then how about you take your business, and just fly away, little birdy.”

            Thauma walked over to the man, staring down at him from her over six-foot perspective, a dark, vaporous aura surrounding her.  “I am not in the mood for games, little man.  Go tell your boss Thauma Guard is here to see him.”

            The Warrior stood his ground, but one of the others entered the building, and returned shortly.  He said something quietly in the ear of the man squared off with Thauma, who nodded, and stepped back.

            “Through there,” the Warrior offered, indicating the open door.

            Thauma turned away without a word and walked briskly into the warehouse.  The gang leader she had met at Pocket D leaned on a desk , surrounded by several of his men.

            “There is no fair ground here, Cape,” he said as the two women entered.

            “There doesn’t need to be,” Thauma said.

            Skida moved to Thauma’s side, the two women stood shoulders back, heads high, with neither fear nor bravado.  “Maybe your men should leave.  We’re not here to fight, but you might not want them to hear what we have to say.”

            The Warrior boss considered, then nodded, and ordered his men out of the room.

            “What do you want,” Warblade asked.

            “How much did Dreck pay you?”

            “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

            “Of course you do,” Thauma said.  “Don’t play games.  We’re not here to waste your time or ours, so we need to know what is going on.”

            The Warrior shrugged.

            Thauma crossed her arms.  “You called me, remember.  You had something to say, but it was all b.s.  Tell me what really happened.  What did Dreck pay you?”

            “Nothing.”

            “What was he holding over you?” Skida asked.

            Warblade smiled.  “Well, now, that’s another question.”

            Thauma sighed.  “Ok, what was he holding over you?”

            The Warrior shook his head.  “It’s not really important.”

            “But it was something.”

            Warblade nodded.  “Yes.  And he used it to get me to deliver the note and same story I told you to Tropic.”

            “Why?”

            “Because he doesn’t want a war breaking out between his men.  He knew what was being plotted, and needed it taken care of without losing his power base.  So he used Tropic for it.  I don’t know if he knew, or cares, that it got so out of control.”

            “You mean he didn’t know how powerful Tropic is since his return,” Skida said.

            Warblade shrugged.

            “And you came to me why?” Thauma asked, then cut herself off.  “No, wait, I think I’ve got it.  You were pissed off because he used you and whatever he was holding over you, so you came to me and dropped a dime on him.”

            “All I told you was that the Freaks had a note saying they were going to kidnap and ransom Tropic’s kid.”

            “But you had to know I would figure it out, otherwise why set me on the path?  Or did you want me to report it to the higher-ups, see if they would do something about Tropic?”

            “Tropic’s a loose cannon,” Warblade said.  “But I don’t think anyone will do anything about it.  You Capes look out for each other, even though some of you cross the law more often than us.  Only you don’t get busted for it.”

            “So you just wanted to get back at Dreck,” Skida said.

            The Warrior shrugged again.  “I knew it’d get back to him somehow.”

            “How do we know you’re not just lying to us again?”

            “You don’t, and I don’t really care if you believe me or not.  Eventually, it’ll lead back to Dreck, and maybe Tropic will get taken offline for a while again, too.”

            “We could just go tell Dreck that you sold him out,” Thauma said.

            Warblade nodded towards the door.  “And I could have a hundred Warriors in here inside of two minutes.”

            Thauma looked at the Warrior with cold eyes.  “You don’t want to do that.  It would bring the full weight of the Onami Strike Force and Archangels of the Apocalypse down on you.  No Warrior hideout or operation would ever be safe in this city again.”

            Warblade stared back.  “I heard the Onami were back in action.  The Tsoo have been watching their backs carefully, watching for Shadow Pain.  Makes me laugh.”

            “You wouldn’t be laughing very long if she were here,” Skida said.

            Warblade stood up away from the desk.  “We could stand here and trade threats all day long, but I’m getting bored.  I’ve said all that I’m going to say.  Do with it what you want, but remember, next time you come here, it better be to fight.”

            “It will be,” Thauma said.

TO CHAPTER 6 >

 


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