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Tropic stalked through the lab’s gleaming
corridors, the straight line of his lips slicing across his grim
countenance. The pull of the child was incessant but the halls and
passageways crossed and turned relentlessly. At times the baby felt to
be around a corner but the fiery hero was met with a dead end. She
seemed below him once, then above, near then far. By nature, Tropic was
a dour, stern fellow, a man who showed few emotions and spoke fewer
words. But the emotion now radiating from him was anger.
The hallways had been sparsely populated by Crey
operatives and they now lay unconscious or dead in his wake. Whenever
he turned into a closed hall and had to retrace his steps, whomever he
came across faced his wrath, an unbridled loosing of power that lit the
corridors with white fire.
He stopped in front of a pair of closed metal doors.
The blaster felt the pull of the child within and, frowning, operated
the round metal lock at the door’s center. They slid open, a
metallic echo filling the empty passage behind and the large room
before him. It was big and round, perhaps 50 feet in a radius, another
corridor stretching away from him on its other side. At its center a
raised platform squatted, a large silo extending to the ceiling,
crackling with energy. Computer terminals surrounded the platform,
clicking and whirring as their hard drives calculated some theorem.
His daughter was not present.
However, at least twenty Crey personnel of every
stripe milled about and as the doors opened all turned to look at the
intruder. Paragon Protectors, Crisis Units, Riot and Patrol Guards,
Special Agents, Scientists, Researchers and too many others to name
stared at Tropic with the same stunned expressions. Everyone came to a
A scientist at a control panel stepped forward,
pulling the surgical mask from his face. “You?!?” he
exclaimed in slack jawed surprise.
Tropic raised an eyebrow as he surveyed the room,
his unwavering gaze passing over the gathered Crey personnel. “Is
that an excited utterance,” he smirked, “or wishful
The scientist’s lips twisted. “DESTROY HIM!!”
A Crey Infiltrator landed next to the fiery hero and
kicked at his head, her mini-skirt riding higher up her leg. Tropic
leaned back, avoiding the kick, barely getting his arm up to block the
right cross that followed. He blocked with his left and, before she
could withdraw the strike, reached out, grabbing her wrist with his
right hand and spun her into him. She twisted like a dancer and ended
up tightly against him, her body blocking his right side and her back
to the rest of the room.
Tropic held out his hand to the advancing foes.
“WAIT!” he cried. The Crey hesitated for a split second.
The blaster smile crookedly and ripped the mini-skirt from the woman in
his arms. Every eye went involuntarily to the Infiltrator’s naked
bottom, the thin elastic of her shoestring thong seeming to draw a line
between the hard, round globes of her buttocks. She screamed with
outrage as Tropic tossed her aside and hurled a raging ball of fire at
And then he was among them, a wrathful being, flame
made flesh, fire leaking from every pore. From his hand, seeming to
spring from nothingness, a sword appeared; a blazing scimitar of orange
fire slicing through armor and skin, metal and bone. Blasts of fire
melted the computer equipment and steel fixtures of the room and
engulfed those unfortunate to be caught in its path. Bodies split in
two and fell smoking to the cold metal flooring. There was no blood for
every wound was immediately cauterized by the cleansing fire.
Soon, Tropic stood alone. About him lay smoking
husks and moaning injured. He sensed movement behind him and turned
into the spin kick of the Infiltrator he had torn the clothes from. The
strike caught him in the shoulder. He pursed his lips and backhanded
the woman, her head jerking back violently as she fell senseless to the
Tropic strode uncaring to the passage across the
room, still being lead by the pull of his child. The corridor curved to
the right some twenty feet ahead and beyond he heard the sounds of
battle, a thud followed moments later by another. He quickened his pace
and rounded the corner.
WillowWind and Hecate exited the elevator, quickly
moving to a shadowed wall. The going had been slow, up and through the
many levels the facility possessed. The baby was here, that was
certain. But the tracking device was on the Protector, not the child,
so the only course of action was to search every room on every level. A
time consuming dangerous undertaking.
They had fought a battle on every floor, in every
office and lab. However, the personnel had not been as numerous as they
would have thought, and there had been signs of a hasty scramble. Some
mission or other, they had surmised. They looked up the corridor and
noted that this floor, at least, seemed to have more guards than those
below. An array of Crey soldiers milled about in the hall, spread out
in groups of three, sometimes gathered in greater numbers.
There was an intersection of corridors perhaps
thirty yards ahead and the two women looked at each other, frowning.
“Hard going,” Hecate said softly.
WillowWind stared down the hall to the closest group
of Crey. Two Riot Guards and a Cryo tank talked quietly.
“Something’s going on up here and I don’t think my
little girl is the center or attention anymore,” Willow whispered.
The assassin nodded. “Look at how
they’re standing, the looks on their faces,” she inclined
her head towards the enemies. “They’re scared of
“Well, lets give them a reason to be
scared,” the heroine grinned. “Let me try to get the
attention of that group up there. Pull just the three of ’em
here.” Willow smiled at the mercenary. “Of course,
everybody in the hall could come too…”
“Inspiring,” Hecate smiled sarcastically.
Willow grinned conspiratorially and turned her
attention to the group of Crey minions. She focused her attention on
the Cryo tank, reasoning he was the most dangerous. She held out her
arm, concentrated and, with a harsh crackle, a beam of intense white
energy erupted from her palm, sailed across the hall and struck the
“What the…!” he exclaimed, a metallic voice filtering through his helmet speakers.
The two Riot Guards looked up. One pointed,
“There!” and all three rumbled down the hall to the waiting
heroine. Willow stood unmoving for a moment longer then quickly stepped
back toward the elevators and the shadows. As the three Crey soldiers
rounded the corner another blast of energy knocked one of the guards
off his feet, sending him careening into the closed elevator doors with
such force the impact left him unconscious and the doors deeply dented.
Hecate struck the other guard with her left elbow
just as he appeared. The man never saw the blow coming and dropped like
a stone. The Cryo tank found himself almost immediately alone and began
to backpedal into the hall. The Knife assassin reached out and grasped
his right arm. With a grunt and snap of her hips, she flipped the
heavily armored man over her shoulder. While he was still in flight,
WillowWind opened her hand and a blazing beam of hard power lanced out,
slamming the man in the chest. The armor crumpled at the point of
impact but did not crack and he tumbled into the polished metal wall,
slumping to the floor surrounded by the harsh clang of the impact.
Sister Hecate smiled at the young woman. “Nicely done,” she nodded.
“We got mad skills, yo,” Willow smirked.
The assassin shook her head. “I have no idea
what that means,” she frowned and Willow giggled in response.
The two women moved quietly up the polished hall,
hugging the wall, trying to make themselves as small as possible.
Another group of three Crey soldiers talked in animated earnestness
ahead. Beyond them, perhaps 20 yards distant, another ten to fifteen
Crey minions waited, consisting of Protectors, Infiltrators and
soldiers of every type. Willow turned back to Hecate and nodded. This
nearest group would be a bit more problematic. They were relatively in
the open, the takedown had to be quick and silent so as not to draw the
rest of the enemy.
The assassin nodded once, her lips set in a fine
grim line, and gripped her sword tightly. WillowWind held out her arm,
supporting it with her hand and pointed it at one of the Riot Guards
ahead. Legs spread and feet planted firmly, she gathered her energy and
a blinding flash of power leapt from her palm. The bolt struck the man
in the abdomen, knocking him violently into the cold steel wall. His
two companions looked with shock at his fallen body then turned,
rushing toward the women, drawing their guns.
Willow felt a hand on her shoulder and saw Sister
Hecate flipping over her head. The Knife mercenary extended her body,
both feet striking one of the guards in the chest and driving him into
the hard floor with a crack. She rolled onto the floor, spinning only
to look directly down the barrel of second man’s submachine gun.
Her sword was already coming up when a blast of energy engulfed the
man, hurling him from his feet and sending him tumbling down the hall.
He struck a wall and bounced off, sliding uncontrollably up the
slippery floor and almost directly into the center of the fifteen or so
waiting Crey personnel. They looked at their unconscious comrade. One
by one they turned their eyes down the gleaming hall to the heroine and
Sister Hecate glanced sidelong at WillowWind. “Oh, thank you,” she said with a roll of her eyes.
“Crap,” WillowWind replied with a disgusted look.
The shocked Crey soldiers quickly came to their
senses, surging down the hall to the women. Hecate’s sword
practically sparkled in the fluorescent lighting as it pointed toward
the advancing enemy. She was already rushing to meet them, WillowWind
close on her heels. “ATTACK!!” she screamed, lips pulled
back, teeth gritted and flashing.
The Knife warrior leapt into the air, somersaulting
over the heads of the Crey minions, her bottom sliding over the slick
metal ceiling. Willow fired a blast of energy which engulfed the group,
dazing them and Hecate landed in their center. Her blade arced out,
tracing a figure eight as she spun in a complete circle. Those closest
to her screamed as the razor sharp weapon cut through them, dark
crimson blood marking its passing.
WillowWind stayed outside the ring of Crey troops,
knowing she was no melee fighter, playing to her strengths as a ranged
weapon. She sent blast after blast of energized power into the wild
fray before her, picking off the soldiers one at a time, thinning the
odds standing against her companion. She watched as Hecate whirled with
deadly abandon among their enemies, her steel steaming red, her eyes
hooded, the white froth forming at the corners of her lips. Willow
realized the truth of their conversation on the roof: Hecate was a
killer, remorseless, relentless and unstoppable. And Willow also
realized that with the bond formed over the course of just this one day
that Sister Hecate would probably die for her.
She sent a blast into the head of a Crey Infiltrator
trying to attack Hecate from behind. Willow smiled, shaking her head. Hero and Villain. We’re the odd couple,
she thought. Suddenly she felt an enormous tug at her left heel and her
leg was forcibly pushed back. She lost her balance and struggled to
regain her footing. Willow looked down quickly at the chuck of hard
rubber missing from her boot and realized a stray bullet had almost
cost her the foot. She sighed in relief and looked up directly into the
fist of a Crey Infiltrator. She rolled with the blow as it struck her
left cheek, spinning around and hitting her attacker with a backfist.
The Infiltrator stumbled back a step and the heroine stuck her boot in
the man’s chest and kicked him back. As he fell, she unleashed a
hard focused blast into him, driving him back into the group around
Hecate. He hit hard and the collected minions lost their balance. She
watched, rubbing the stinging side of her face, as the Knife assassin
sliced and hacked her way through them until none were left.
Sister Hecate stood among the dead and wounded,
breathing heavily and smiling grimly. WillowWind approached her with a
limp. “You are alright?” the assassin asked with concern.
“They shot my shoe!” Willow said with
outrage. “And that…dead guy hit me,” she said
Hecate smiled as she glanced at the heroine’s mangled heel. “It could have been worse.”
“Yes,” Willow nodded, “these boots could have been new.”
The mercenary stared at the woman for a moment, then
sighed and shook her head. “Come on,” she started to round
the corner into the next hall. “Lets find your…”
Hecate stopped short, Willow almost bumping into her. Ahead of them
stood a lone Paragon Protector, his face hidden beneath his blue and
Hovering a few inches above the floor, the Protector
turned. He was tall and muscular, exuding menace from hard spines that
appeared on his body. His voice bounced from the metal surrounding
them, echoing through the hall. “I been waitin’ for
The two women spared a look at each other and Hecate
stalked down the hall. “Go,” she whispered to WillowWind,
“I’ll deal with this.”
“But…,” Willow started but the Protector interrupted.
“Yeah, go on,” the voice was hollow and lifeless. “I’ll catch up.”
Willow looked briefly at Hecate and nodded once. She
moved past the Protector, never taking her eyes from him, and made her
way down the hall to the chamber at its end.
Sister Hecate drew herself to her full height and
pointed her sword at her enemy. “Ready to die?” she asked
with as much feeling as the cold metal surrounding her and launched
herself down the hall.
WillowWind hurried down the empty passageway, her
face set darkly. She could hear the sounds of battle behind her:
Hecate’s sword clashing against the hard thorny spines of the
Protector; the grunt of exertion; the thud of flesh on flesh. She
chewed her lip with worry as she approached the locked double doors
The circular lock at their center was flat and
blank. No mechanism was apparent and she paused, staring at the round
plate. Willow reached out, running her hand around and over the disk
when it suddenly pinged and the two doors slid back only to reveal
another set of locked double doors. She sighed in aggravation as she
placed her hand on this next lock. Another ping and the doors opened.
The heroine stepped back hurriedly as the room
revealed itself. It was round and fairly large. At its center a
cylinder stretched from floor to ceiling, surrounded by a low retaining
wall. At what would be the approximate four corners of the round room
rested circular units, crackling with energy also protected by a low
ledge. Along the back of the room, energized cabinets hummed and
glowed, clicking and whirring as they preformed their calculations.
The chamber was also filled with a bevy of Crey
personnel. Those at the right of the doors turned to look at the
heroine, their startled murmurs rippling from one to another until the
entire room was staring at the lone woman.
WillowWind fixed them all with a hard glare and said
softly, her voice pregnant with menace, “I’ve come for my
daughter. Where is she?” and strode grimly into their midst.
Still silence greeted her entrance and then the room
surged toward her. The heroine never slowed as she extended her arms
and white glowing energy erupted from her hands, battering two of the
approaching Crey soldiers. A Riot Guard leapt in front of her and she
kicked him back, hurling a ball of power in his direction. The further
into the chamber she went the more minions surrounded her.
She was struck hard in the back, a steel baton
knocking the wind from her. Willow stumbled and felt her ankle hooked
by an Infiltrators foot. She jumped up to avoid falling and as she
tried to regain her balance she saw a flash of metal. A serrated knife
came down, stabbing into her chest. The hard plastic gold and blue Top
Ten shield on her uniform cracked but held fast, stopping the blade
from piercing her heart. She lashed out, punching the assailant with a
hard right but there were too many. The heroine was kicked from behind,
then a roundhouse right struck, splitting her lip. She spat frothy
blood and a blow to the back of her head sent her tumbling to the hard
The Crey pounced, circling her, kicking. The assault
gathered momentum and intensity as the group attacked the superhero,
the glee of beating down one of Paragon City’s protectors adding
to their zeal.
WillowWind covered up as best she could. She heard
and felt a ‘pop’ and knew a rib had snapped. She was dazed
and nearly unconscious when she heard, or perhaps felt, a tiny voice in
her head. “Up, Mama, up!”
The heroine’s eyes snapped open and her voice
filled the round room. “ENOUGH!” A huge flash of light and
power exploded from WillowWind, hurling her foes away, the concussive
blast causing the chamber’s equipment to shake and rattle. She
shakily climbed to her feet, the eerie silence punctuated by the moans
of the injured. The Crey around her had been knocked senseless, those
closest had been crushed, pulverized by the horrible nova of released
power and the room was filled now with their mangled bodies.
She ran the back of her hand across her forehead,
smearing it with a crimson stain. WillowWind turned and left the scene
on trembling legs mumbling under her breath, “I’m coming,
baby. Mama’s coming.”
Hecate rushed headlong at the Paragon Protector,
lips snarling over clenched teeth. She knew she was at the
disadvantage, not only because of the spines jutting from the
man’s body, but also because of his ability to fly. He would
always have the high ground and the Knife assassin would always be on
Unless she took the reckless offensive.
The Protector fired several spines from his hands
and Hecate batted them away with a flick of her sword. Then she was on
him, her blade moving up, around, in circles and thrusting forward.
Each strike was blocked by bony thorns, their whittled shards
regenerating before the pieces hit the floor. Hecate kicked out,
sweeping the floating man’s feet away. The Protector spun crazily
in the air, but was still able to block the assassin’s weapon.
He righted himself and landed quickly, not willing
to be caught unawares again. Hecate grinned, now on more equal footing
with her enemy. She swung her sword at the Protector’s head,
spinning as it sailed over his head. She caught him with a roundhouse
knee in the ribs. He grunted and lashed out with a right cross. Sister
Hecate sidestepped and sent her elbow over his arm aiming for his
throat. The Crey villain lowered his head, taking the strike on his
masked chin, blocking the blow with his jaw. He pushed Hecate away, the
spines on his forearms raking over her shoulders, tearing her stealth
suit and leaving scratched skin in their wake.
The Knife mercenary stepped back, sword held
tightly, circling her foe. She watched as he rubbed his chin with the
back of his hand. Suddenly two small spines arced toward her. She
smiled, recognizing the gambit. One of the sharp shards flew at her
head, but it was an inch or two off its mark. The other spine traveled
behind, a bit lower. A lesser warrior would, out of reflex, dodge the
first spine and move directly in the path of the second. She stared
into the featureless mask of the Protector and simply stepped to the
outside of the first spike, expressionless as both harmlessly passed.
The Protector nodded. “You’re good,” he said, the sneer evident in his voice.
Sister Hecate said nothing, continuing to silently
circle her opponent. She leapt toward him, her blade sweeping up from
the floor. The man leaned back, the sword missing his flesh but slicing
through the hard spines surrounding him. Hecate was in close, unable to
avoid the knee that struck her stomach. The hard muscles of her
abdomen, honed by hundreds of years of training, contracted and she
barely felt the blow.
She drew back her sword and thrust straight at the
Protector’s middle. Hecate saw his bony hand come down and tried
to withdraw the weapon but was too late. It smashed into her wrist and
her hand opened reflexively, dropping her blade. She watched as it slid
away down the corridor, ending far out of reach.
Thought and action were one as the Knife warrior
leaned back, kicking up between them with her left leg. Her foot
slammed into the Crey soldier’s chin, her body following as she
somersaulted back, drawing her knife in midair. She landed, crouched
and ready, teeth flashing as she watched the Protector stumble back a
The man rubbed his chin, again trying to work the sting out. “You’re really good,” he said coolly, his vacant masked features staring at the woman.
Hecate said nothing, remaining crouched and
motionless, a deadly coiled spring. Suddenly the spring released, her
powerful legs practically launching her at her foe. Her knife thrust
in, stabbing and sweeping. She did not wish to be in this close with
the spiny Protector but there was no help for it. Her sword was out of
reach and her knife was just as deadly.
She slashed up and then down, slicing through the
bony spikes extruding and contracting from the man’s body. The
knife assassin sent her elbow into his cheek, following the blow with a
head butt, dazing the Crey soldier momentarily. Suddenly she felt a tug
at her left thigh and her blade cut through a spike, leaving it in her
leg. Hecate sent the knife up, trying to slash at the Protector’s
throat. The blade barely grazed his neck and with her arm fully
extended, brought the knife down, trying to stab his head, neck,
shoulder…anything to incapacitate the enemy. The Protector
grabbed her wrist and pulled her arm wide.
Hecate’s body was exposed and a searing
explosion of pain enveloped her. Mouth open, she looked down in time to
see the long thorny spine impaling her through the right side and out
her back. She dropped her knife and as the Protector withdrew the sharp
bone, she dropped to the floor, landing on her rear, propped up on an
elbow and clutching the wound with her left hand. Blood flowed through
her fingers, dark and thick. With her right, she pulled the bone dagger
from her left thigh and gripped the spine shard tightly.
The Knife warrior lay with her legs bent in front of
her, the Protector standing at her feet. Her eyes darted over the
corridor searching for any advantage. They fell on her sword but it had
come to rest so far away it may as well have been in another country.
She saw that her knife had fallen almost directly between the
Protector’s legs. Hecate gritted her teeth, squeezing the spine
in her right hand and realized the Crey minion had been speaking.
“…but I was just so much better than
you,” he was saying, the gloating sneer dripping from his masked
lips. “You know, if ya live I think I might make you my
girlfriend,” he leered. “And then, when I get tired of ya,
maybe I’ll let the others take a turn or two. I know alla the
guys and a few a the girl’sll like a taste,” he nodded then
fixed her with his covered gaze. “You’d like that too,
Hecate’s lips curled with anger and she said
flatly, “My name is not ‘whore’.” She kicked
out her legs, spinning and sweeping them around. The Protector leapt up
as the legs passed beneath him. The assassin continued her spin, her
bottom sliding smoothly on the polished metal floor and she scooped up
her knife with her left hand. She bounded to her feet, the knife firmly
in her grasp and turned to the Crey minion. He had landed, crouched and
ready for battle.
The Knife warrior came around with her right hand
and the bone shard punctured the Protector’s right temple and
went through the brain, an inch of the sharp point protruding
from the other side. The knife in her left had came from
overhead, driving to the hilt into the top of his skull and pushing him
to his knees.
Still holding onto the hilt of her blade the Hand of
Artemis said with as much feeling as the hard steel of her knife,
“I am Sister Hecate. Tell the Boatman I say
‘Hello’.” With a flick of her wrist she snapped off
the hilt and kneed the dead Protector in the chest. He fell heavily,
thudding onto the cold floor, the surprised look on his face forever
Hecate threw the hilt down the hall and moved away,
clutching her side until her back bounced into the corridor wall. She
sat heavily on the hard floor, back resting against the wall, legs
stretched in front of her. She sat silently bleeding and then her eyes
flew open at the hard rasp of the voice, a voice that sounded like
concrete dragging over gravel, a voice she could never forget.
“I didn’t expect it to be you.”
Hecate turned to look down the hall and saw a ghost. “You! It…it cant be…I…”
Tropic smiled crookedly as he approached her. He
looked at her wound and frowned, the fire flashing from his eyes..
Hecate still stared incredulously.
“You’re…you are dead!” She squinted an eye at
him. “Wait…am I dead?”
Tropic smiled as he kneeled in front of her. “No,” he said simply.
“Then how…how is this possible?”
Hecate shook her head slowly, staring unblinkingly at the man before
her. “I saw them bury you…I…I
“Ask your Goddess,” the hero said as he pulled her hand from the wound. “Let me see.”
“Yes,” he nodded as he examined the
Knife mercenary. “She came to me and said my daughter needs my
help. She sent me back to the Ritual to regain my powers and here I
“By all the named Gods,” Hecate whispered under her breath.
“Is Willow with you?” Tropic asked, never looking up from her injury.
“Yes,” she replied, her head motioning
down the corridor. “She’s looking for the baby.”
“She won’t find her. She’s the other way.”
The assassin raised an eyebrow. “How…how do you know?”
“I can feel her, the pull of her,”
Tropic shook his head. “Don’t ask me how.” Finally,
he looked into her eyes. “This is bad,” he said referring
to the deep wound. It had gone straight through her. Liver, spleen,
pancreas, intestines…all had been punctured by the long spine of
“It’ll heal,” she smiled. Hecate
saw the look of concern flash over his red-skinned face, the flame
flowing from his eyes deepened in color and she sighed. “If you
think you can come back from the dead and have me die on you,
you’re even dumber than you used to be.”
Tropic’s lips curled into a lopsided grin. “Its never finished between us, is it?”
Tropic stared unmoving for a moment more then leaned
in, kissing her hard, his lips pressed tightly against hers.
Hecate’s eyes flew open in surprise, then closed, hooded, as she
returned the kiss. It was a kiss full of promise and passion, need and
desire. Even as seriously wounded as she was, she felt the same heated
shiver as ever, as though it were a hundred years ago, as though time
between them had never passed.
Tropic pulled away, looking intently at her face and the voice within him whispered A fine mate. The hero nodded and said, “δικός μου καρδιά”
Hecate’s started in surprise at the ancient
language then smiled. “δικός
μου καρδιά,” she
answered in kind. My heart.
“I’m going to get my daughter,” Tropic nodded. “Are you going to be alright?”
The assassin glanced down the hall. “Bring me my sword.”
The hero retrieved the weapon and handed it to the
Hand of Artemis. “Are you going to be alright?” he asked
“Go,” Hecate assured him. “The heroine will be back soon. Go get your child.”
Tropic nodded and stalked away, his face set with grim purpose.
Hecate watched him go and as he rounded the corner
out of sight, her body slumped, her eyes closed and her sword slipped
from her fingers, clattering to the hard metal floor, its mournful echo
filling the empty corridor.
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