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The dim light of the fading Moon : Lines in the sand
“Well, you would have to be invited by one of the leaders, and I happen to be one, you know. Also, you would have to complete your first assignment with success. Most recruits fail that second part usually.” He made his eyes harden, steeling them and looking at her, a hint of challenge and amusement to coerce her into wanting this. She remained silent, holding her breath, awaiting his next sentence with anticipation. “All right, you are hereby promoted to the rank of recruit first class, all privileges, and most importantly, responsibilities that come with it, are now yours. Since we are not at the academy, and there are no instructors present to begin your training, I guess we’ll have to skip a few chapters, and dive right into it.”
“Dive into what?” She asked curiously, she wasn’t one to enjoy swimming much, already she disliked this new adventure.
“Into trouble, recruit. We don’t call ourselves Riders of Apocalypse for nothing, you know. Ours is a long tradition of standing when we should run, holding the line when everyone else says we should surrender. We are the Riders, take pride in this title, recruit, for it is that very name, which will strike fear in the heart of your foes, and hope in the ones that had none. When all else fails, we stand and deliver.” Frank spoke with passion, with belief and pride, hoping to inspire the little mutant to think of herself as being a part of something greater than anything she had known or believed in the past, and judging from her upright stature, the cold decidedness in her eyes, the words had rung true.
“I understand, ermmm, Leader of Us All, what is my task?” She asked solemnly, not quite understanding why Winter chuckled at the title she had just given him.
“Your task is as follows, should you succeed, you are to report to the Riders of Apocalypse Headquarters in Steel Canyon. There you will ask to speak with Control, and only him, and report your success. Are you ready for your first assignment recruit?” Frank knew that Control would ask the little mutant the right questions, knew that he would add it all up and come here with all the Riders and tear this place apart. The only thing that truly mattered though, was to make sure the information got to him. Taking into account he believed his time, and that of his friend was running out, he decided to take no chances.
“But… Sir… Where is Steel Canyon?” Impishly replied by a blushing Lab Experiment. Winter nodded, she had never been out of here, and that was exactly what he had hoped for.
“Well, in that case recruit, I guess we will have to show you.” He smiled, then creased his eyebrows. “Only problem is, only one of us knows the location of the Headquarters, and whenever we need to go there, she has to guide us. I guess that upgrades your mission, recruit.” Winter was lying through his teeth so much, he looked up at the ceiling, almost expecting a heavenly bolt of lightning to strike him. “Bring Sun Heat with you, she will be your guide.”
Silence, heavy and palpable, full of meaning, followed.
Further into the base, Bear Cat was being carefully watched by two guards. He slowly walked in front of a series of table, onto which a myriad of weapons were laid out. His eyes went from fighting batons to swords, to battle axes and various types of knives.
“The odds are fifty to one against you, Mr. Bunny. Any last requests?” One of the guards chuckled.
“Yah, I wouldn’t mind going out with a little music.” Bear Cat replied while his hand brushed the hilt of a vicious looking battle mace.
“Sure, got a tune in mind?”
“Have a drink on me by AC/DC.” And his hand came to rest upon a familiar weapon, that hammer he had used to punt his way into this facility, the first time around. He smiled ruefully, that weapon somehow made him feel good. His choice was made. Hefting the weapon expertly, he swung it around the air a few times and recognised the familiarity of it. It looked like a plain battle hammer, long shaft that looked aged and used, the blunt head of it rusted. But it felt good to use it, almost as if he had always wielded it. A calm, confident and resolute smile appeared on his rugged face. He would be going down fighting, kicking and screaming and that was good. It had been the way of his life ever since that day he had decided for himself that enough was enough. He knew what he was about to face, he was no fool when it came to asserting odds for or against himself. Today, was the day he died.
Turning around still smiling, the two guards took a few careful steps back and raised their weapons at the sight of him. They led him into the last corridor he would ever walk, towards the last door he would ever see open and close, into a circular room the size of a football field. All of it did not matter anymore, nothing but the moment now, occupied his mind. They wanted to measure a fight, a battle against a foe he could not possibly beat alone. A battle they would get to witness, record and quantify as they said, the likes of which people read of in the history books and wonder if it really occurred or if it was made up. They wanted to record a fight, he would give them a war. Bear Cat’s mind was calm and quiet, he was hot red steel in the cold, crisp water, tempered and true. The guards closed the double doors behind him, he heard them sliding what must be a heavy bar across, to block the escape. Silence, nothing to be seen in the room all the way across. He had no doubts that the sliding cargo door at the other end of the gymnasium was where the enemy would come from. The entire situation had a certain roman feel to it, the gladiator’s arena, morituri te salutant and all that crap. This was a wonderful way to die, no audiences, no one to save but himself. It would come down to his will to survive pitted against an enemy that would give no quarter. No fear here, just two warriors, facing each other not because they have to, or that they want to. Because they choose to do so, because that’s what it was all about in the end: a pure moment of truth. He wondered if the monstrosity he was about to face understood this, wondered how that thing interpreted this moment. Bear Cat was sure of only one thing at this moment in time, the clarity of it making him smile. If that beast and him could talk about the things to come in the next few minutes, they would both agree that Bear Cat’s life was coming to a sudden alt, soon.
The door at the far end of the room began to slide upwards, revealing a pool of light, the outlines of pairs of feet standing around what looked to be a giant cage with wheels underneath it. Bear Cat counted seven guards armed with sub machineguns standing around the cage, the slumped shape of the monster inside the cage confirmed at least that even the Envoy of Shadows can be subdued by chemical means. Four guards came to the front of the contraption and bent down to begin pulling on ropes attached on it. They brought forth the sleeping menace and let go of the ropes about fifteen feet inside the gymnasium. They quickly ran back towards the cargo door, while two more guards aimed and fired darts inside the cage, at the beast. No doubt, these projectiles would be the wake up call. The cargo door slid down, leaving the caged beast and Bear Cat alone in the quiet space. Maybe fifty yards separated him from the cage yet he clearly heard the behemoth stir, a grumbling came from it. There was no doubt now that the time to die was here and now. Bear Cat took a fighting stance, battle hammer at the ready, he repeated to himself over and over: “I came here to rescue Turbo Starr, my mission is not complete.”
The first note of “Have a drink on me” began to play in the room, soon the drums would kick in, the base would roll into it and the screeching voice of the lead singer would come in. Bear Cat wondered if he would make it to the end of the song…
In the laboratory’s control room, several technicians were seated in front of glowing screen, managing the data from the many experiments going on. Most of them were now standing and watching the battle about take place. Money was exchange and bets were made as to how long Mr. Bunny would actually last against the beast. Dr. Wepp did not intervene in the matter. In fact letting it go was just what morale needed today, his people deserved some form of entertainment here and there, as long as all the data was being gathered to be reviewed later, he had no quarrels with them standing around and watching the spectacle.
He sat there watching the monitors, his eyes darting towards another screen recording the heart rate and blood pressure and a myriad of other physical information on Bear Cat’s condition. Sad, the man had refused his offer, what an addition to his team he would’ve been. Even now, facing the impossible, his pulse was steady and calm. What a specimen he was. He had seen others like him tested in similar fashions in the past, and only a few were a match to his composure. Wepp admired him in a way, although gifted as Bear Cat was, he had also found the time to develop the nature of his being, the core of his soul. Other super powered beings usually relied more on their powers than their brains, but Wepp had a doubt that the former leader of the Hunters of Apocalypse valued and enjoyed using his wisdom before his brawns.
Cheers from the technician broke his reverie and he saw that the captured monster had risen in its cage, growling its anger. A few gigantic punches later, the reinforced bars of the door were already bent, in a few seconds, it would be free. His eyes shifted to the Bear Cat monitor. Motionless, he just stood ready, awaiting, watching. With a resounding echo, the cage door flew open and the beast took a careful step out of it, looking left and right in the gymnasium. Was this basic instincts, or was the monster actually assessing the situation? Its red eyes then centered on Bear Cat, in the distance, and the beast stopped, a low growl rumbling out of it. Was it sensing a threat? The energy monitor spiked up and everyone visually witnessed a flowing black smoke emanating from the Envoy of Shadows, magic in its nature, known to be deadly if someone came too close and was exposed over a period of time. Crey personnel had learnt this outright when they first brought in the beast, two days ago.
The beast charged ahead and the floor rumbled, Bear Cat did the same, letting a long cry filled with anger. Everyone in the lab cheered then feel silent as the distance between the two was closing. They watched one screen, then the other, until both could be seen in the center monitor. The clash was gigantic, Bear Cat jumped in the air, battle hammer raise high above his head ready to come down mercilessly on the monster’s skull. The beast dove straight ahead, talon hands extended in a reaching manner, jaws opened ready to render flesh and bones if it had the chance. The impact followed, drowned by the excited yells of the technical staff.
Bear Cat’s hammer flew from his hands and continued its course behind the beast, and in a flash, he found himself shove into the floor once, twice and a third time. Breath knocked out of him, he wasn’t given a chance to recuperate. The beast’s right hand closed with an iron grip around his left arm, he felt the room spin, suffered the smashing effect of his body being turned into a rag doll as he hit the floor once more, was lifted again, smashed once more into the floor. He felt ribs break, muscles and ligaments tore up, blood flew his mouth. The beast rotated on itself and violently threw Bear Cat towards the cage. The man flew through the air and came to a sudden stop inside the cage, against the far wall of it. So strong was the impact, that it pushed the contraption to fall backwards with a resounding clang! Envoy of Shadows growled with satisfaction, racing towards the cage, it jumped on it, coming to stand above bear Cat’s broken body. Emitting a rumbling laugh, the beast stepped to the ground, closing the cage door on the bloody mess.
The song had reached the first chorus…