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From the Ashes

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Chapter 16

            The air in the Top Ten base was still, the tension almost a physical thing.  Elendil sat at the table with his head in his hands.  Several others sat in various similar poses, questioning themselves both silently and aloud.  Only WillowWind seemed resolute in their actions.

            “I can’t believe we just did that,” Elendil said.

            “We did what we had to,” Willow said.  “Eventually Odysseus would have found out anyway.  This way hopefully we’ve avoided a massacre.  Now we just have to work on getting it through to Tropic that he has to have limits.”

            “Easier said than done,” Lord Nikon said.  “We’ve all talked to him until we’re blue in the face.  The only thing that is going to get to him is action.”

            Several around the table nodded.

            “We’re going to have to stand up to him eventually,” TuxedoGin said.  “And I’m starting to think the sooner the better.”

            SuperBrain nodded in agreement.  “We’ve let this go far too long, and now we’re starting to cross lines we shouldn’t.  It’s time to end it.”

            “You’re probably right,” Lord Nikon said.  “The question now is the same as it has been since he came back: How?  We all know his history, what he did for centuries at the hands of the Hun Lords.  It’s obvious there’s a part of him slipping back into that, though another part of him holds true to the Tropic we know.  He hasn’t lashed out at anyone other than villains, but are we sure if we cross him that he won’t?”

            “It doesn’t matter,” Willow said.  “You guys are right.  We’ve gone as far as we can go.  Maybe further than we should have, but what’s done is done.  If we can just hold out to see if the Onami Strike Force can accomplish its mission, we will know which path to take.”

            “Just what the hell are they doing?” SuperBrain asked.

            “Trying to find someone who might be able to help knock some sense into Tropic’s head.”

            “Better be someone big,” Tux said.

            “We have it on hopefully a good authority that he’ll be up to the task,” Willow replied.  “They just have to find him and bring him back.”

***

            The teleporter portals opened up, several large moving trucks flashing into existence before the yellow aura around them disappeared.  The backs of the trucks flew open, disgorging a horde of villains upon the island plateau. 

            Spectreblade was on his feet, heavy sword in hand as the street thugs poured from the trucks.  Behind them came a host of powerful villains, some of whom Spectreblade and the other heroes around the island instantly recognized.

            The Outsourcer urged his minions towards the assembled heroes, and the bodies they protected.  Jimmy the Fish and Keith Morgue held back from their comrades, standing guard in front of their boss, the mastermind behind their organization.  Both enforcers held an automatic pistol in both hands.

            Several of the others within the organization had brought their own followers, a mass of small robots charging into the fray controlled by the small girl called the Toyster, and another called Target Practice.

            The heroes standing guard formed a line in front of their fallen comrades, preparing to meet the rush.  Brain Fried raised his hands, whispering words of magic, a shimmering phantasm appearing behind him, along with a trio of phantom heroes.  Several of the Outsourcer’s thugs stopped, fooled by the illusions, firing bullets and swinging knives at the phantom army.

            Behind the thugs came men bearing black leather bands crossed at their chests, several shadow ninjas trailing behind.  Khazm and Kwang Ghe charged the groups, followed by Reconing and Tragic Johnson.  The heroes fell amongst the villains with hands and feet flying.  Though the villains lacked the augmented strength or speed of the heroes, their numbers tipped the scale into their favor.

            Ginger Blaze held back from the advancing villains, her hands casting a cloud of burning embers into the faces and eyes of the attackers, blinding some.  The robots controlled by criminal masterminds were unaffected and charged on, small weapons firing both energy and projectiles into the massed heroes.

            A massive tank of a man in burning armor waded into the machines, Guiness Prime smashed a burning sword into the small robots, obliterating several.  The victory was short lived as the creators of them called more into the fray from hidden stores through small remote teleportation devices.

            The clash of steel on steel rang above the din of battle as Spectreblade and his nemesis Armorbound, both in ancient, enchanted armor, swung and parried nearly identical broadswords in a deadly duel.  Horrors hidden deep in the minds of those around the combatants seemed to converge around the two knights, emanating from the armor.

            The battle became nearly impossible to follow.  Hordes of thugs, shades and robots assaulted the heroes of the Onami Strike Force and Archangels of the Apocalypse.  The super-powered villains numbered less than the heroes, but the sheer number of their followers threatened to break over the heroes like the waves against the rocks below.

            I Doctor and Remedy Hart moved through the din as quickly as possible, their hands full trying to heal and support the heroes.  A flicker in his visor caught I Doctor’s attention, his hand involuntarily switching his visor to infra-red detection.

            “Assassins!” I Doctor yelled towards Kwang Ghe and Tragic Johnson.  “T.J., look out!”

            Shimmering out of nothingness, Katamichi, a tall asian woman in black, stuck forward with devastating speed towards Johnson’s back.  Barely having time to react to the warning, Johnson had turned slightly, his arm taking the brunt of the thrust, the blade cutting through the bicep, flaying the top third of the tanker’s arm from the bone.  Staggering back from the cut, his opposite hand cupping the massive wound, Tragic Johnson did all he could to avoid the follow up swings of the flashing sword.

            I Doctor was at his side instantly, electricity flashing out at the advancing stalker.  Though weaker than most, the charge still packed enough of a punch to discourage the tall woman.

            Johnson was on a knee, his hand holding the muscle of his right arm to the wound.  Green energy poured from I Doctor’s hands into the injury, but was unable to stem the flow of blood.

            “You’re out of here,” I Doctor told the tanker.  Johnson nodded in agreement, I Doctor activating the tanker’s mediporter, sending the hero to the hospital in a quick flash.

            Warned by I Doctor, Kwang Ghe saw the claws of Evisceral Shadow flash out.  Dodging, the martial artist avoided the slashing blades, spinning low trying to sweep the assassin’s legs out.  The crazed woman jumped up, flipping backwards away from the kick, fading once again from view.  Kwang Ghe tried to follow her heat signature, but it became lost in the melee going on around him.

***

            Tropic opened the door for WillowWind, a look of concentrated calm upon his face.

            “Hey,” WillowWind started.  “What’s up?  Where’s Annie?”

            “Sleeping,” Tropic said.

            “You shouldn’t let her sleep so long,” Willow scolded.  “She’ll get used to it.  She’s already spoiled enough.”

            Tropic stepped aside for his daughter’s mother to enter.  WillowWind was obviously bothered by Tropic’s lack of words.

            “Where’s Hecate?”

            “She had business to attend to.”

            Willow stopped in Tropic’s living room and turned on him.  “What’s wrong?  You’ve been strange at times since you got back, but right now you’re just being creepy.”

            “I know what you did,” Tropic whispered.

            “What?”  WillowWind’s surprise was obviously genuine.

            “You turned Hyde over to the Warriors, knowing they would kill him.  How could you do that?”

            “How could I…” Willow’s face reddened.  “You question me!  After all the crap you’ve done lately!”

            The floor shook slightly as Tropic spoke, his voice carrying a quiet deep bass that resonated almost below the audible range.  I am just in my actions.  I work to bring this world from darkness.”

            “Is that what you call it?  Killing recklessly, without thought or regret?  Because I call that murder.”

            The ever present flames in Tropic’s eyes flashed momentarily.  Mind thy tongue, woman.  Thou hast not the rank to question a god.”

            “Damn it, Tropic, you are not a god!”

            Wouldst thou know a god if thou didst meet one?”

            Careful with her response, WillowWind said, “Yes.”

            Thou art mistaken, for thou shouldst recognize me as such.  No matter, thou shalt learn in time.  Mind thy path, for justice is not blind to thee.”

            WillowWind’s eyes narrowed.  “I want my daughter.  Now.”

            Tropic nodded.  “Very well.  I have Dreck to deal with anyway.  Let yourself out.”

            The heat shimmered around him as Tropic walked from the apartment towards the fire escape.

            Running to the bedroom, WillowWind quickly gathered her groggy daughter into her arms and let herself out through the bedroom window.  Flying off, holding Annie in one arm, she dialed her cell phone with the other.  Kira Jinx answered on the second ring.

            “Get everyone together,” WillowWind said.  “Tropic is going after Dreck.  We all know how that’s going to turn out.  Dreck is under almost constant surveillance.  There’ll be no way for us to hide whatever Tropic does.”

            “Where should we intercept him?” Kira asked.

            “At the entrance to Crey’s Folly.  Tropic will have to pass through there to get to Dreck’s hideout.”

            “How long before you get there?”

            “I don’t know.  I’m headed over to the Onami members, see if there is anything happening.  I only hope there is.”

***

            The battle raged back and forth.  An endless stream of mechanical and human minions seemed at the disposal of the Outsourcer’s organization.  The heroes were outnumbered, fighting back and forth to keep the villains from reaching any of the bodies of their comrades.  Several times they had gotten close, only to be driven back by a coordinated push.

            As the fight raged closer to bodies, Spectreblade and Armorbound pounded upon one another with steel and armored fists.  Evisceral Shadow was once more fighting Kwang Ghe, the hero able to track the assassin’s movement even though most could not.  A trio of small robots slipped through the line, tripping up the martial artist.  Evisceral Shadow rushed by towards the exposed bodies.

            Seeing the assassin’s break, Armorbound pointed at Thauma Guard’s prone form with his sword.  “Take that one first, woman!”

            Hissing back over her shoulder, Evisceral Shadow sneered.  “I don’t take orders from you!”

            Her claws out, Evisceral Shadow reached Thauma Guard, looking into the hero’s face.  “I killed you once.”  The assassin raised her claws to strike but was interrupted by a guttural yell of fury falling towards her.

            A comet burst from the sky, exploding into her like a freight train of burning flesh.  The assassin rolled and struck at her assailant, blades cutting and piercing as she fought against the inferno to threatened to burn her skin to ash.

            Norman Salazar seemed to have lost the control he was known for, his fist raging towards Evisceral Shadow with almost reckless abandon.  Oblivious to the injuries he was sustaining from the assassin’s blades, he rained fire upon his foe.  Only the assassin’s enhanced healing kept her alive.

            From the sky another figure dropped into the battle.  Electrical bolts flying from the fists of Voltech in all direction.  Landing near Sir Kit, of the Archangels, the two electric blasters became a small power station that lashed out in blinding flashes.

            Still fighting numbers, most of the heroes didn’t notice the air starting to swirl around the crater behind them, blue and white balls of energy flashing in the forming vortex.  More and more of the phenomenon grew, the air becoming a storm of gathering plasma.

            A few of the combatants noticed the display and moved away from the crater.

            When the energy had become a tornado of flashing blue arcs, the vortex concentrated and sank into the ground.  The bowl of the crater burst into flames, lighting the night like a massive pyre.  The flames flew skyward, forming into a climbing shape, deafening screech sounding from the massive, flaming bird of prey. 

            Turning and swooping towards the battlefield, the flames coalesced and solidified into the form of a hero, wearing the black and green armor he had been cremated in.  Flexing his hands, he felt the power run through them as it had before, though something was different.  It was deeper within him, more aligned with every part of his being.  The bright blue arcs of power that dashed about his body increased, gaining speed until they burst into a dazzling cerulean glow.  The flames contained within merged with the energy, showing as a green glow through PhoenixHawk’s eyes.

            Several eyes turned upwards towards the shimmering hero.  The din of battle continued, though now shouts of warning were heard mixed in. 

            Seeing the battle that encompassed his friends below, PhoenixHawk gathered his strength and loosed a massive blast of blue-white energy that hit the ground like a bomb.  Villains were scattered and flung about by the shockwave that spread out from the point of impact.

            The Onami members who had been unconscious for days crawled to their feet, instantly aware of battle around them.

            Through their battle Evisceral Shadow witnessed the hero’s return and fled from the burning fury that assailed her.  The Rogue Isle Protector tried to follow, but she eluded his grasp in almost a panic.

            Returning to the battle, Norman Salazar leapt to the Outsourcer’s side.  “Withdraw!  I do not approve of this, and your quarry is helpless no more.”

            “Your money is good,” the Outsourcer said.  “But not good enough for me to blindly take orders from you.”

            “Withdraw or I will kill you right here,” Norman hissed, the flames about his raging.

            The Outsourcer looked at his formerly silent partner, then nodded.  He whistled loudly, signaling his troops back to the trucks.  A mass exodus occurred, the thugs scrambling for the open trucks.

            Seeing the rapid withdrawal around him, knowing he would be surrounded by nearly twenty heroes and alone, Armorbound hissed a curse at Spectreblade, then fled the island on the tails of the other villains.

            Within moments the raging battle had dissipated into nothingness, leaving the heroes alone on the plateau, staring at PhoenixHawk in awe.  The reborn hero, risen from the ashes of his own death, landed amongst his friends, the glow around him diminishing back to the small arcs of power, which too faded as he contained the energy within him.

            Thauma Guard rushed to his side, crushing him in a tight hug.  She released him and stepped back, then punched him square in the face.

            “Don’t you ever leave me like that again!”  She scolded. Then wrapped her arms around his head once more.

            PhoenixHawk hugged her back, then turned to the NyteHawk and asked, “Are you alright?”

            The NyteHawk nodded.  “Physically, yeah.  But I’m tired as hell.”

            The rest of the heroes who had just risen shared the sentiment.

***

            Watching from a distance Norman Salazar felt a stab in his heart as the tall, darked skinned heroine rushed into the arms of another.  That should be me, he thought.  No…it was me.  We were together once.  Shaking his head he tried to sort out the memories that made his mind feel like swiss cheese.  It was me, wasn’t it?  Yes, but…not her.  Another?  I did have someone…who?  A wife?  A daughter?  Norman closed his eyes and sighed to himself.  What have I lost?

            He approached the group, Voltech falling in beside him.  Thauma Guard was the first to notice them.

            PhoenixHawk looked at Voltech, taking in the uniform of the Rogue Isle Protectors.

            “I guess some things have changed, eh Mike?”

            Voltech smiled.  “I never thought I’d see you again.  Yes, some things have changed, but I don’t’ think I was one of them.  I couldn’t suppress who I am at heart forever.”

            PhoenixHawk held out a hand, Voltech shaking it in a firm grasp.

            “Be true, and honorable,” PhoenixHawk said.  With a grin he added, “I don’t want to have to send you back to the Zig.”

            Voltech smiled in return.  “If you have to try, better pack a lunch.  It’ll be a long day.”

            Norman had been looking PhoenixHawk up and down during the interchange.  When Voltech stepped back from the Hero, Thauma Guard introduced them.

            “Do I have you to thank for helping out again, Norman?”  She asked.

            “I have always been here, watching over you.  But I see things are as they should be now, so I will take my leave.” 

The Rogue Isle Protector removed his helmet, looking into PhoenixHawk’s eyes, so similar to his own.  PhoenixHawk immediately saw the resemblance in the Protector’s face.  “Treat her well,” Norman said.  “You have a treasure whose wealth you cannot imagine.”

             “Norman, I…” Thauma started, then stopped, trying to find the right words.  “Things could never have been what you wanted.  I’m sorry for that, but I am very grateful for your help.”

            Norman nodded.  “Then you can do me a favor, to show your gratitude.”

            “What’s that?”

            “Find Brian Sutter,” Norman said, then leapt off without another word, flames trailing behind him like the tail of a comet.

***

            WillowWind arrived as PhoenixHawk greeted and spoke to his comrades, many of whom were shocked at his return.  Carrying her child on her hip, WillowWind approached the group.

            “I hate to interrupt,” she said.

            PhoenixHawk turned to the new arrival.  Thauma Guard introduced them, finishing by nodding towards the red-skinned toddler on the other woman’s hip, saying “And this must be Annie.”

            The girl smiled, pointed at PhoenixHawk, and giggled.  “Birdie!” she proclaimed.

            WillowWind beamed in pride, gushing over her daughter, but caught herself before she lost sight of the moment.

            “I know this is sudden, but we need you.  Now.”

            “Tell me,” PhoenixHawk said.

            “Tropic is going after Dreck.  He’ll massacre hundreds of Freaks if we don’t stop him, and it’ll probably be caught on every surveillance camera in the Folly.”

            PhoenixHawk nodded.  “Ok, let’s go.”

            “I need to find someone to take care of Annie,” Willow said.

            “No,” PhoenixHawk replied.  “Bring her.  It will help.”

            WillowWind looked skeptical.

            “She’ll be safe,” Thauma Guard said.  “I promise.”

    TO CHAPTER 17 >

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