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From the Ashes

D Heikes


Chapter 11

            The nearly full moon lit the spring sky above the glow of the remaining war walls, reflecting off the ocean that spread out a slowly undulating blackness around the tiny island.  The main body of Talos Island, and the high-rise buildings shone on the horizon, a spiraling spotlight sending thick white beams into the night sky.

            The air smelled  of the sea, the sounds of the waves gently crashing into the rocks below the plateau of the island filled the night with an almost subconscious melody.

            Spectreblade stood next to the bodies of the eight comrades who had collapsed in Perez Park, their essence flying away with the disappearance of Artemis.  The remaining members of the Onami Strike Force had done as the goddess said and carried their bodies here, laid them out gently along the edge of the crater left where PhoenixHawk had died.  A small bronze plaque memorialized the place, not far from where the armor-clad hero stood.

            Shawn, who was known as Reconing to most, stood silently next to Spectreblade, thickly muscled, yet graceful and swift as a cat.  His body seemed relaxed as the two men stood vigilantly guarding the bodies of their comrades.

            Two days had passed with the Onami Strike Force members guarding their fallen.  Before the pair had taken over guard duty, Brain Fried and Thundering Takai had chased off a trio of Circle of Thorns mages. 

            The word was out now, Spectreblade knew.  It was only a matter of time before things started to get interesting.

            In the distance, from the edge of the Talos Island, a small flaming comet streaked.  It arced over the water, a trail of fire blazing through the dark sky.  Spectreblade’s sword was in his hand, the dark power of his armor shrouding him, waiting, as the fire-shrouded being landed several feet away.

            Dropping from the sky a smaller man landed beside his burning companion, wearing a nearly identical black and red uniform minus the helmet, his eyes arced brightly with surges of electricity.

            “What are you two doing here?” Spectreblade asked as the pair approached.

            “Investigating,” Norman said, the flames surrounding him snuffing out without a trace.

            “Investigating what?”

            “Whether or not the rumors flying around are true,” the other said.

            “What rumors would that be, Volt?” Shawn asked.

            “That the bodies of several heroes were spread out here, ripe for the taking.”

            “That might prove more difficult than the rumor seems to suggest,” Spectreblade said.

            Norman, the Rogue Isle Protector, chuckled under the red and black helmet that covered his head and the top half of his face.

            “Of course it would be.  But Crey seems to have taken an interest, and they can be very persistent.”

            “We appreciate the warning,” Spectreblade said.  “But why would you bring it to us?”

            Norman simply nodded in the direction of Thauma Guard’s prone form.

            “I put him up to it,” Voltech added.

            “Why?” Shawn asked.

            Voltech shrugged.  “I don’t forget my debts.”

            Shawn nodded as though the sarcasm that filled the statement didn’t exist, and answered the question without doubt.

            “My curiosity was also piqued,” Norman said.  “Why would you be here, instead of having their bodies at the hospital?  Do they live?”

            “They live,” Spectreblade said.

            “Then why here?”

            “It’s what we were told to do.”

            “By whom?”

            Spectreblade stood silently, regarding the Rogue Isle Protector.  Though his face was hidden behind his ancient helmet, the knight knew Norman would read his silence as the only answer he would give.

            Norman nodded.  “Ok, I understand.  But let me make some guesses.  Something is going on between the Onami Strike Force and Top Ten.  Something that probably has to do with the mysterious reappearance some short time ago of Tropic.”

            Again Spectreblade only responded with silence.

            “Several days past, Tropic was seen in a heavy fight upon Peregrine Island.  Thauma Guard was seen there, too.  Then two days ago a ruckus broke out in Perez Park between the Onami and Top Ten.  One has only to have moderate cognitive abilities to reason out that the two are related.”

            “Then there’s the talk in the undercurrents all over the Rogue Isles and various factions there and here,” Voltech said.  “Word is out to stay away from Tropic, that he’s lost his mind, and is way more powerful than he was.  One of the biggest pushes to stay away from him comes from the Warriors.”

            Spectreblade and Shawn looked at one another, though neither gave response.

            “And members of my network tell me not too long ago Thauma was seen in Pocket D speaking to Warblade, of the Warrior Council,” Norman continued. 

            “Who used to be Hyde,” Voltech said.  “Who had some association with Tropic years ago when the Hellions tried to burn Paragon to the ground.”

            “So,” Norman said, “the dots connect, but leave questions.   Thauma talks to a high-ranking Warrior, then runs into Tropic in a pitched battle, then finds herself in the middle of a fight with Tropic’s teammates.  Subsequently the Warriors begin to avoid Tropic like the plague.  Why is Tropic the connection?”    

            “You seem to have all of the other answers,” Spectreblade said.  “You probably know more than either of us, so why ask?”

            “I have many reasons.  Primarily I wish to know what happened to Thauma Guard.  If she has sustained permanent injury, and I trace it back to the Warriors, I will burn them all to ash.”

            “It would give you a perfect excuse, wouldn’t it?”

            Norman considered the knight coldly, reflecting the silent response he had gotten earlier.

            “You could use your feelings for her to send your minions on a killing spree, and wipe the Warriors off of Talos Island, giving you a foothold in Paragon.”

            “My feelings for Thauma may be the result of my genetic enhancement,” Norman said.  “But that does not mean they are any less real.”

            “I never said they were.  But you would use them as an excuse for personal gain.”

            “What other kind of gain is important?” Voltech asked.

            Shawn smirked.  “That’s where you always had trouble with the Onami.”           

            “I never had trouble with the Onami.  My problems come from the Hero Corp itself.  They limit you, limited me.  They care about how they look in the news, how the public sees them, when none of that matters.  They hold you back from reaching your true potential.  Through the Rogue Isle Protectors I am able to. . .”

            “Silence!” Norman said sharply, his voice barely elevated above its norm.

            Shawn shrugged again, as though his former companion’s feelings were misguided, and maybe he was a little saddened by that.  The look on Shawn’s face told everyone he knew there wasn’t much he could do to change Voltech’s mind, so he wouldn’t waste his energy trying.

            Spectreblade began to say something else, but was cut off by Norman raising his hand for silence.

            “I think the party is about to start,” Norman said.

            From the dark side of the island, two large black helicopters swooped, their blades quietly beating a stealthed thud in the air.

            A squad of Crey soldiers dropped on ropes from the helicopters, energy rifles coming up as they hit the ground.  Four Crey Tanks followed, the armored suits artificially giving powers to the wearers.  The last two from the helicopters were a male and female pair of Crey’s Paragon Protectors.  Genetically altered clones in blue and yellow, helmets covering their faces, they were the offspring of the program that had been stolen and turned into the Rogue Isle Protector program, shaping Norman into what he was, and now Voltech.

            The darkness that thickened the night around Spectreblade intensified, ghastly images projecting outward into the minds of his enemies.  Blade in hand, he charged into the Crey soldiers, smashing two of the lightly armored security guards from his path.

            Reconing was right behind, hands and feet lashing out.  He kicked aside a cryo-rifle that came to bear on him, smashing the gunman’s face with a massive fist.   Continuing to move, he almost appeared to be swimming through the Crey operatives.

            Spectreblade was surprised to see Voltech fly up and over the group.  Instead of lashing out with tight blasts of electricity, he fell amidst the Crey soldiers his fists crackling with power.  As his body came down, he drove the energy in his fists downward, a shockwave radiating from the point where he smashed them into the ground.  The tightly packed corporate soldiers were sent flying away from the blast.

            Norman followed the rest, lashing out with powerful flaming fists, sending the attackers fleeing from the intense heat.  One of the Tanks sent a barrage of bright blue ice crystals at the Protector.  Norman saw the attacks coming and braced, weathering the beating given him without flinching, the flames around his body raging against the ice.

            Regardless of the weapons they carried, the Crey soldiers were no match for any of Paragon’s heroes, and quickly fell back to let the Tanks and Paragon Protectors move in.

            Spectreblade watched a wicked smile play across Voltech’s lips as he charged the female Paragon Protector.  Norman followed closely behind, charging full force into the male of the duo.

            Spectreblade and Reconing battled the Tanks, closing the distance, keeping the ranged Tank suits’ powers to a minimum.  Though limited, the heroes still had their hands full at two to one odds with the armored villains.

            Spines burst from the skin of the woman Voltech faced, creating a jagged, poison-tipped shield around the woman.  Her hand whipped out at her Rogue Island nemesis, moving faster than Voltech must have anticipated.  The spike that extended from her knuckles pierced his armor over his shoulder and through the muscle underneath.

            Grunting in pain, Voltech grabbed the woman’s arm, pulling the spike from his shoulder with a grinding sound.  Dark power enfolded his arms, traveling up his body and focusing around the wound, easing the pain, stopping the flow of blood.  His fist became a bright, glowing ball of energy that smashed into the faceplate of the Paragon Protector’s helmet.  Though the faceplate held, the impact was severe and staggered the woman several steps backwards.

            Norman grappled with the heavily muscled male Paragon Protector.  Created by opposing, yet similar, genetics programs, the two struggled to show supremacy like matched bulls, horns entwined  in a deadly struggle.  Flames raced around the Rogue Isle Protector’s body, shifting and seething, seeking out points of attack almost of their own volition.

            The blue and yellow clad Crey creation threw a backhanded arc of shimmering blue energy at Norman, staggering him back several steps.  The Paragon Protector followed with a volley of smaller blasts from each fist, pounding Norman’s chest armor, knocking him from his feet.  Norman rolled with the attack, coming to his feet and leaping full into his Crey counterpart.  Thrusting both flaming hands forward, a rush of fire enveloped the Paragon Protector.

            Though the Crey suit was built to withstand such attacks, the power in the blaze nearly overwhelmed the Paragon Protector.  Fleeing back several steps to regain his footing, the clone thrust a hand skyward, a green nimbus of energy leaping to life around his form.

            Voltech had staggered the other female Protector, who followed her partner’s action, both now eveloped in an energy field that turned aside most attacks.

            Spectreblade and Reconing had put down the four tanks and now rushed the Paragon Protectors, who remained difficult, yet not impossible to hit. 

            “Stay on them!” Spectreblade yelled.  “This will wear off soon!”

            Seeing their plight, their downed security team and Tanks, the two Paragon Protectors leapt skyward, flying off quickly from the battlefield.

            Looking around, Spectreblade took note of the unconscious bodies of the Onami members amongst the defeated Crey, and wondered at the symbolism of both sides of the fight laid out upon the ground at the sight of the death of the fallen Onami leader.  Not lost on him was the irony that those who had helped fight off the attack were both considered outlaws in Paragon, members of the Rogue Isle Protectors, one being infused with the DNA of that fallen leader, the other a former friend and member of the group.

            “More will come,” Norman said.

            Reconing nodded, saying all he needed to say with the gesture.

            Spectreblade removed his helm.  “Thanks for the assist.”

            Norman regarded the hero.  “You know why I came.  Why I always will.”

            Spectreblade nodded.  “And you?” he asked of Voltech.

            The former Onami member replied, “As I said, I pay my debts.”

            Reconing shook his head and sighed.  “You don’t owe us anything, Volt.  You never did.”

            Spectreblade considered his former teammate, and saw the changes that had come over him.  Once known throughout the Onami as a bit of a loose cannon with a sarcastic tongue, he had become a much more contained person.  The dark power he had found, along with his experience with the Rogue Isle Protectors had obviously reigned in the brashness he had been known for.   In time, Spectreblade knew the man could grow into a powerful adversary if he took that route, especially when paired with Norman and the other Rogue Isle Protectors.

            “We need to call in a clean up squad,” Spectreblade said.  “It would probably be best if you weren’t here when the police arrived.”

            “Agreed,” Norman said.

            “Thank you again for your help.”

            “Whether she realizes it or not, I will always do what I can to protect Thauma.”

            “I’ll let her know.”

            Norman nodded, then leapt off towards the mainland, Voltech flying in trail.

            “What do you make of that?” Spectreblade asked Reconing.

            “I try not to.”

            Spectreblade nodded in agreement.  “Voltech always seemed at odds with himself while he was with us.  His new path seems to suit him better.  Still, there is something odd in that pair.  You never know which side of the fence they’ll lean towards.”

*      *     *

            Kira Jinx sat at her reception desk in the Top Ten base, waiting to direct the members towards the room in which WillowWind awaited.  It was late, past eleven o’clock at night, and many of the members were on patrol, or assigned various missions.  Kira knew the few whom Willow had requested would break themselves away from whatever they were doing to attend.

            Lord Nikon was the first to arrive, wearing his trademark blue sunglasses despite the darkened sky.  His black and gold Top Ten uniform shone in the vaporous glow emanating from the energy coursing through his hands. 

            Nikon was followed shortly by Elendil.  The tall man’s black hair was starting to show touches of gray.  He had set aside his standard Super Group uniform in deference to the meeting and taking a night off, instead wearing casual clothes covered by a red leather biker jacket.

            Deep Phreeze was the last to arrive.  The aura perpetually surrounding the blonde woman dropped the temperature in her vicinity noticeably.  As she stepped through the door to he conference room, WillowWind stuck her head out and asked Kira to join them.  Kira put the phones on hold, as they normally would be at that time of the night, then entered the room, closing the door behind her.

            WillowWind stood at the head of the conference table, leaning on her palms.  When all of her friends had taken seats she said, “It’s been a day and a half since we had our fun with the Onami in Perez.  I’ve gone over in my head several times what was said, what we found out.  I think we need to know more about this Warblade.”

            “Why concentrate on him?” Lord Nikon asked.

            “A couple of reasons: One, it’s something we can do.  I don’t like any more than any of you do that the Onami was assigned to poke around us, but if what Artemis said is true, we need to bring Tropic back around to us.  Secondly, we need to know if what happened will be spread further, and get back to Tropic.  We all know we were covering for him, even if we were doing a somewhat poor job of it.  I don’t know how much we could cover if he incinerates the entire Warrior council.”

            “It would rid Paragon of a menace that’s grown since the war,” Deep Phreeze said.  Nods around the table showed a shared sentiment.

            “True,” Kira said.  “But we are under certain scrutiny as it is.  Our encounter in Perez proved that if nothing else.  We can’t afford to have that blow up in our faces, too.  We need some way to keep that from happening, and mitigate what has already been done.  As it stands now, Tropic’s actions could lead to him being arrested.”

            “Which presents another problem,” Elendil said.  “If it does get out that Tropic was duped, and the whole thing blows up and Longbow tries to apprehend him, it’ll be a major catastrophe for all involved.”

            “And the backlash could devastate this group,” WillowWind finished.  “I’m not going to pretend that’s my main concern.  I’m feeling pretty selfish about this situation; Tropic is my daughter’s father.  I don’t want him taken away or becoming known as an outlaw.  I don’t want us to have to fight the legal system as well as the rest of the Hero Corp.”

            “Hell, I don’t even want to fight with the Onami again,” Lord Nikon said.

            “Not afraid of a little tussle in your old age, are you Nikon?” Elendil ribbed.

            Nikon smiled and shook his head.  “Not at all.  They gave as good as they took, as did we.  But, as some of them pointed out at the meeting, we are supposed to be on the same side.”

            “And they’ve been through some horrible times,” Willow added.  “The loss of their leader was devastating to them, it was all over the tabloids and hero papers.  They’ve just gotten back on their feet, and as much as I am pissed off that they were poking into our business, they were following an assignment, and doing what they thought was right.  We may well have done the same in their place.”

            Deep Phreeze smirked slightly to herself.  “Miyaka wouldn’t agree with you.  I don’t think Johnny would either.”

            “Which is why I don’t want either of them involved in this from here on.  Miyaka has a serious bender for Shadow Pain.  She keeps saying the two of them ‘need to know,’ whatever the hell you want to make of that.  Johnny is too close to the whole thing too.  So, let’s just keep this between the five of us here.  See what we can find out about Warblade and how to keep things under wraps, so that nobody finds out what happened.”

            Nods around the table acknowledged unanimous agreement.

            “Kira, please set up a file that nobody else can access, and keep whatever information we find about this in it.  Once we’ve poked around enough, we can look at what we’ve all gathered and put the puzzle together.”

            “Consider it done,” Kira said.

            The group left the base, Kira being the last one out, locking the computer down as she left.  She was good at puzzles and organization.  If the rest brought enough information to her, she was certain they could put a muzzle on the whole ordeal, and bring things back to some semblance of normalcy.  That is, she thought, if the Onami is successful in bringing back their leader, and he can open Tropic’s eyes.  If not, she knew Tropic would continue to grow more and more arrogant, his blatant disregard for any kind of rules besides his own would blossom like a mushroom cloud so high there would be no way anyone would be able to hide it.


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