Grey Wolf and Lapis Lazuli's story is finally told in this final part of 'The End of the World!'
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. None of the characters, places, or anything else is meant to be represented by anything in reality. Duh! Fiction, get it? I the author reserve the rights, so please don't go posting this anyplace else without my permission. A very special thanks goes out to Cathy who spent the time to make this story readable. Another round of thanks goes out to all the others out there in BCTS land who have encouraged and inspired me to write and keep writing. Any remaining mistakes are all mine.
The closer Grey got to that looming, dark disk up on the hilltop, the more he wished that the Mystics Guild would get their heads out of their posteriors and get their asses here right now. After all, this was their stated purpose to prevent things like this, and here the bastard had been, right under their damn noses. As little respect he had for the Guild at the moment, Grey was fully aware of how under qualified he was to handle this.
Reaching the top, he took the most round about path he could to avoid the fallen scholar and that gate. Grey was relieved that none of that son of a bitch's blood had made it into that blackness.
“You think you've won?” The madman rasped weakly, blood upon his lips, but still alive. “Justice will prevail. The guilty will be punished.”
Cold shocks ran through him. The madman yet lived.
“That war ended more than a half century ago.” Grey replied, with exaggerated evenness. It wouldn't do to aggravate the lunatic. “Nazi Germany is long gone. The guilty have mostly all died because of one reason or the other. The few that are left are more interested in hiding than in taking over the world.”
“Everyone is guilty.” Blood ran down his mouth. “There are no innocents.”
“Shh.” Grey calmed the terrified girl as he reached her side. “I'm here to help.”
“Don't blame your sins on everyone else.” He knew his advice to her was their only chance at walking out of here alive. Two words from the madman would be all it would take. “You were a professor here before the war. If you tried, you could've gotten your family out ahead of the war, but you were estranged from them. Your metal-smith father saw your craftsmanship talent and disagreed with your desire of becoming an archeologist.
“On the other hand, nobody at that point really knew how bad the Nazis truly were.” Grey worked at the knots, not daring to use a knife and risk the golems taking action. “Even those who did know wanted to deny that anyone would do such evil to other people. It was only in the liberation of the concentration camps that the truth really became known.”
“No.” Rattled out of the dying man's throat. “What happened can never be excused or forgotten. All must pay.”
“Nothing excuses what you've done and it certainly was not justice.” Grey's anger crept forward. “You've caused so much heartache and pain. Sure, some of your victims deserved their deaths, but more than a few others did not.”
His eyes were on the golden woman who'd saved him as he released the girl. The old murder was still in her metal arms. More blood had seeped onto her, running down her metallic skin onto the snow, turning it red.
“What's your name?” Grey asked the girl, helping her up off the stone slab.
“Claire.” She whispered, shaking like a leaf.
“Okay Claire.” He told her gently. “This is what's going to happen. We're going stroll down the hill nice and slow so as not to startle all these ladies. Alright?”
She nodded jerkily.
“You haven't won.” It was more wheeze than threatening.
“One step at a time.” He told the girl, holding her up.
“From hell's heart I stab at thee.” Blood bubbled from the the dying man's lips as he quoted from 'Moby Dick.' “For hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.”
His hair standing on end, Grey turned at the hacking cough. The old madman had spat a mouthful of blood at the gate. It had fallen short, but was slowly running down the altar's blood groove.
Shivers ran through him as the bloody spittle instead of freezing on the cold rock channel like it should. It flowed down the carved slot as if drawn by that ominous Gate. He jerked forward to stop it, but halted when every golem snapped to attention staring at him like missiles with lock-ons.
Knowing he couldn't fight them, he tried moving more slowly, but they still reacted aggressively taking a step toward him. That was not a good thing.
As the lunatic began a gurgling laugh, they had only one option. As fast as he dared, they went down the hill.
“What's wrong?” She asked, not daring to even think about turning her head.
“He managed to get some of his blood close to that thing.” Grey spoke as he marked out where he left his gear. He'd mapped out an escape route from there and had a sinking feeling they were going to need it.
“When we get out of sight.” He instructed. “We're going to pick up my gear, and then run like hell is at our heels to my van. Unfortunately it is a few blocks away. I didn't know I would have company on the way out of here.”
“I don't know if his blood will work or not.” Grey spoke his thoughts. “He damn sure isn't an innocent and that is what he promised whatever he summoned. However, let's not stick around to find out.”
Clinging to him, she nodded her agreement again.
Picking up his pack and crossbow on the run, he started to explain to Claire about their escape route when the scream interrupted him.
Back on the hilltop, one of the golems was shrieking while two others had fallen to their knees. Another looked to be crying, while the one who'd saved his life looked skyward as if she hadn't seen it before. The rest simply stood there, immobile as they had been before. It didn't take a genius to figure that the Golem Master had finally died, breaking his hold on his creations.
It also didn't take a brainiac to see most of them were, at the very least, broken. Grey, however saw an opportunity.
“Lapis Lazuli!” He yelled. “Stop his blood from reaching ...”
A ringing peal of thunder knocked them from their feet as the Darkness roiled like water in a boiling pot.
“Aww hell.” Grey cussed, struggling back to his feet. He had a glimpse of a tidal wave of teeth and claws come charging out of the darkness. That was enough for him.
“Run” He hissed to Claire leading them into the trees where they couldn't be seen. An explosion of screeches and shrill screams shook the hillside.
She needed no encouragement, as she bolted through the trees like a scared rabbit. He would be damn lucky to save the cheerleader and himself. To hell with saving the world.
“Lapis Lazuli!” Her name was called. “Stop his blood from reaching ...”
She felt like such the fool and an idiot, but she couldn't help herself. The moment that evil sonofabitch had died, the bonds on her had disappeared. The chains on her very essence and soul were just gone.
Maybe she didn't have a beating heart or need to breathe, but it caused whatever she did have to skip a beat and to inhale in surprise and shock. It was wonderful and yet terrible all at once. She was free. After thirty years, the shackles were gone.
Her eyes turned skyward, stinging with tears she didn't know this body could produce. Next to her Ebony was weeping with body shaking sobs while Emerald held herself as she screamed, both of them finally able to express their soul deep agony.
Two others, Kokab and Levana, collapsed to their knees, like puppets with their strings cut.
Even with her speed, Lapis had barely begun turning as she pushed the Bastard's corpse away. The drop of bloody spittle had vanished into the pitch black disk.
The blackness, impossibly, began to ripple as it was a curtain and a riot of movement was happening behind it. Then, starting where the bloody drop disappeared, reality 'tore' as a horde of creatures charged through.
The other automatons, which she guessed must've been truly dead or so far gone it didn't matter, reacted as the wave of screeching, toothed and clawed monsters came near the Bastard's cadaver. Obeying their last orders, they defended it.
It was hard to make out a single shape in the mass of death that swarmed at them. The best she could do was compare them to the extinct 'terror birds' that had ruled the prehistoric Americas. Standing at about five feet tall they had short wings, but more than made up for that with a wicked toothed beak and talons from hell.
She didn't need to be a tactical genius to know this was a fight she couldn't win. There were too many of the bird-like demons and, although each golem was powerful, they were also fighting as individuals. As she watched an automata was literally taken apart by the clawed horde like by a school of piranhas, so quickly the construct didn't have time to repair itself.
Ebony, still fighting her shock from being freed, stared in confusion, while Emerald had stopped her screaming, looking about also in befuddlement. Kokab and Levana were starting to come to themselves, but far too slowly.
“Get Emerald!” She yelled at Ebony who, as one of the Six, was near her. I'll get the other two.”
The stark black feminine sculpture stared at her in incomprehension for a second before nodding.
“We'll meet at the Bastard's house!” Lapis leaped into the air, using her flight to boost her over the sea of snapping razor sharp teeth.
Ebony fired off a blast of her darkness that acted as solid as any battering ram, smashing the demon birds aside. Grabbing Emerald, the black automata took a running jump down the hillside.
Landing Lapis crushed one demon bird's skull in a golden hand. She noticed that, whatever the bones of these things were made of, it was extraordinarily strong. Good, so was she. A clawed foot sliced into her, but as another tried to take advantage and widen the already healing metal she had for flesh, she snatched the talon out of the air throwing it into the mass of demons still erupting from the gate.
Scooping up Kokab who had come to her senses enough to dodge the attacks coming at her, Lapis snagged the arctic white form of Levana who'd also begun defending herself.
“Hey!” Exclaimed the speedster automaton named for the Jewish word for Mercury. “What the hell is going on!”
“We're getting the hell out of Dodge!” Lapis replied, launching herself into the cold sky.
“Levana?” She asked, the automata named 'white' in Jewish. “Are you alright?”
“I think so.” Replied the white figure dangling beneath her. “That name. I had another name.”
“We all did.” Lapis sighed. Was there anything such as therapy for displaced souls trapped within magical constructs? “The Golem Master killed all of us and used our spirits to animate these 'bodies.'”
“I, I, remember.” The quick-silver bright Kokab stuttered with a whimper. “The pain.”
“Stay with us.” Lapis ordered. “The sonfabitch is dead, but he released those damn things before he bled out. Maybe I couldn't do much to him while he was alive, but I sure as hell can mess up what he had planned since he's dead.
“Besides.” She added, “I think I was once a hero.”
“I think I was too.” Levana said, as she looked back at the hill that was fast blackening with bird demons.
“Not me.” Kobab whispered. “I was a thief. I think, maybe. Everything is so jumbled up.”
“That doesn't matter.” The white automata replied back. “Only who you are now.”
“And who is that?” The silvery feminine magical construct retorted. “So many of my memories are so mixed up or just gone. I don't know who or what I am.”
“How about just someone who is pissed off.” Lapis suggested. “And is more than ready for a little payback?”
“I guess that will work.” Kobab nodded hesitantly. “Where are we going now?”
“Back to the mansion.” She answered. “We have to meet Ebony and Emerald there, plus I have to go inside for something important. Besides, while that SOB might have preferred to keep us naked, sculpture or not I want clothes. He had stuff there when he wanted us in costume.”
There was quiet as all recalled 'why' he usually wanted them dressed up.
“Eww.” Kobab made a face. “Now 'that' I wish I didn't remember.”
“All of us were helpless.” Lapis told them both. “That's part of what I'm going to take care of now.”
They landed outside the old Dean's house. Neither Ebony, nor the man she believed to be Grey Wolf, had made it down the hill yet, but they could see the invading demons progress because of the rapidly disappearing forest. The hilltop was now bare and they could see the line of falling trees.
“We better make it fast.” Levana inclined her head at the sight. “They're going to be here quick.”
She and Lapis had to steady themselves as Kobab was abruptly gone in a blur of motion.
“Okay,” The white automata raised her crystalline blue eyebrows. “That was fast. Quicksilver for a speedster. That makes sense.”
“The Bastard tried to match the bodies he made fit the powers of those he used to animate them.” Lapis bitterly explained. “Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. The ones that it did received the 'honor' of being his tools of choice.”
Her tone made it damned clear that term was anything, but a compliment.
“I take it that Kobab and I weren't counted among as his successes?” Levana asked, lightly running up the stairs despite being made of metal.
“No.” Lapis shook her head. “His speed was always his greatest advantage, but not so much as an offensive ability. As an automaton, she is stronger and much more resistant to harm, but without that creative spark that made him such a pain in the ass as a villain, she really wasn't that effective.”
“I take it that applied to me as well.” She walked through the door Kobab had left open.
“Yeah.” The golden woman sighed. “He believed he'd refined his 'process' so he could capture what made you such an impressive fighter. Which in a way worked, because he could command you to perform nearly perfect kata's all day long.”
“But again, without that creative spark as you called it, something was missing.” Levana finished for her, nodding understanding.
“Exactly.” Lapis agreed. “He wanted unquestioning obedient slaves, but he also desired the special skills that put those he chose in a class by themselves.”
“Not realizing that imprisoning the soul made the other impossible.” The martial artist continued.
“More like ripping it to pieces, burning it to ash and then pouring molten metal over what was left,” Lapis replied, with pain in her heart. She remembered all too well the torture that had trapped her sense of self away in the deepest, darkest corner of her consciousness.
“A mad man.” Levana shook her head at her own memories. “But a genius all the same. I can't believe this body of metal seems to be just as responsive and alive as I used to be.”
“You do know that it's freezing outside and we're essentially naked, right?” Lapis recovered some of her humor. She kept quiet about being 'too' sensitive in certain places.
“Yes,” She agreed. “But I also feel alive. Real or not I can feel my heart beating and the air going in and out of my lungs.”
“Find some clothes and get dressed.” Lapis chided gently. “We're all shell-shocked, but we really don't have time. Not right now. Try not to think about the past, but focus on what needs to be done now.”
“You are, of course, correct.” Levana agreed. “My focus is all over the place and that's abnormal for me.”
“None of this is normal.” The golden automata called over her shoulder. “However, we survived while the others did not. Let's not throw that away.”
Getting to the basement and the Bastard's working rooms wasn't hard. Any wards and protections that didn't go down with his death were keyed to her and the other automatons anyway.
No, it was the next part that was the toughie. It was made all that much more difficult by the absolute lack of time. Passing by the tables, runic circles, and shelves full of artifacts, she decided to try the most straight forward method first.
The vault was a not so small bank safe that, for whatever reason, was installed in Misktonic University's Dean's residence. This being Arkham she hated to even try and guess why. The thing was about the size of a walk-in closet or small bathroom. It was also magically warded and protected up the yin-yang because that was where the SOB kept the things he truly wanted secure.
She sighed, finding it closed and locked. Unfortunately this was one of the few secrets of his she didn't know. After listening to him monologue for more than thirty years she figured she knew damn near as much as he did about most things.
The door was specifically designed to fit as seamlessly as possible. Gritting her teeth, Lapis dug her fingers into the hardened steel. There was a squeal of protesting metal and then the very foundation the safe was mounted upon creaked and groaned.
Sparks flew as the disturbed magical wards had their say. However, her power sucked up that energy and added to her own with scarcely a thought. Unluckily for the wards, once that power reacted to her, it created a link, she used it to drain them as dead as the proverbial doornail.
Forcing a corner of the safe door down, she grasped the safe's frame, warping it even more to free the door's bolts holding the thing closed. It was as messy as tearing open a plastic sealed package used to be for her in the days before she'd been murdered and transformed into her current self.
Knowing that madman's insanity all too well, she prepared herself for one last booby-trap. Wrenching the heavy door open, it went off, probably with the intention of not only killing the would be burglar, but to destroy the contents as well.
Years ago, before her murder, Lapis wouldn't had been able to prevent that. Now, however, with her golden body being such a perfect conductor, she absorbed the blast like a sponge, leaving not so much as a single ember behind.
She knew exactly what she was looking for. Often she'd been called on to move the heavy padded box to his workroom. This caution made her open the box first. Inside in carefully fitted slots were fifteen hand-sized stone disks that were covered in symbols and writings. In three other of the slots were only a piles of dust. As she watched another of the stones crumbled before her eyes.
There weren't any time left at all.
Closing the lid, she rushed out as fast as she could.
Grey was impressed. Claire had run like a frightened deer through the snowy woods and only now was starting to show signs of slowing. Of course, the shrill screams of the monsters behind them probably helped keep her going.
He'd managed to slip another bolt into his crossbow and re-secure his weapons so they were where he needed them to be. However, make no mistake. If he had to fight these things, he was dead. There were simply too damn many of them.
Additionally, even with the head start, the horde was gaining on them. Sure he could move considerably faster than Claire, but he wouldn't, couldn't, abandon her. Hearing what sounded like a runaway freight train behind them he bought his weapon around.
The stark black form of Ebony and the metallic, electric blue of one of the other golems wasn't what he was expecting. Made of polished ebony wood even her hair was black, gleaming like obsidian strands. What stood out the most was her striking amethyst eyes.
The other one had brilliant emerald eyes and her hair was more of those strands that looked like a wave of scintillating green. Against the deepest blue he'd ever seen, her 'skin,' she was striking as hell. However, it was obvious to his eye that she wasn't 'holding' things together as well as Ebony. Her movements weren't as sure of themselves and there was a certain spooked wildness in her green eyes.
She and he jumped as Ebony scooped up Claire just like a running back, snagging a fumble.
“Come on Crossbow Boy.” The black golem urged as she passed him. “If you don't step up the pace you're going to be bird feed for sure. That just won't do because we owe you big time.”
Grey grinned. Okay, maybe he would live through this after all.
“Oh relax.” Ebony lifted the cheerleader in a fireman's carry. “We don't work for that guy any more. William Tell over there took care of that problem in spades.”
“Well, then.” He grinned at the blue girl as they ran. “Let's make tracks. You can call me Grey.”
“I'm Emerald.” She replied, not noticing the exertion at all. “I think. That's the only name I remember, although I'm sure there used to be another.”
“Don't worry about that right now.” He advised, pushing himself harder. “You've all had one hell of a shock and deserve all the help that you can get. However, like usual, we've got a situation here.”
“That's about par for the course.” Emerald hesitantly returned his smile. “This sort of thing seems to go with being a hero.”
That didn't keep Grey from seeing the shadow that passed over her face. Lapis Lazuli and Ebony appeared more mentally intact than these others. Damned if he knew why, but if this disaster was as bad as it appeared, then the world would need all the help it could get.
“When my wolf spirit first bonded with me, I thought I was going crazy.” He let his wolf guide him through the woods. If there was anything his spirit wanted to do right now, it was get as far from those things as it could. Besides, it helped distract him from the realization that, somewhere along the way, some of the golems had become people. Their faces had expressions and character instead of the blank lifelessness of statues.
“I couldn't tell which memories were mine or if they were my spirit's.” His feet ate up the ground breaking out of the woods onto the edges of Arkham. “At times I didn't know if I was wolf or human, however I learned a trick.”
Crossing Boundary Street they ran down Church Street, taking the opportunity of the mostly clear terrain to speed up to a full run.
“Focus on the now.” Grey said, between breaths. “Who you are at heart will come through in the form of your actions. In time, with those new memories, the old ones will be easier to put into context.”
“Easier said than done.” She looked behind them. “They have almost reached the edge of the woods.”
“It always is.” He agreed, glancing back too. Black, ominous, swirling storm clouds were forming over the hilltop. The woods, that had once hidden the crest of the hill, were now gone, completely obliterated by the hoard of onrushing velociraptor-like demon things.
“Faster it is.” Sprinting, Grey ran full out for the three figures standing outside the Dean's house. Unless they knew something he didn't, shouldn't they all be running?
“You want me to do what?” The man she knew had to be Grey Wolf exclaimed.
She'd breathed out in relief as she saw that Ebony and he had joined up and were coming right to her. That gave her a little time to sort through the pile of clothes Kobab had rushed out to them.
With distaste, she'd moved the maid's costume to one side. It wasn't the fact it was so feminine that put her off, but because it represented all the long decades she'd spent as that Bastard's slave. However, the others weren't much of an improvement. Occasionally he had them dress up to recreate some social event such as the holidays, but usually it was for sex. There were way too many schoolgirl outfits and outright fetish stuff, even if it was badly out of date.
Maybe the styles she knew best were from the seventies and early eighties, but the Betty Page look was so not her. She couldn't even say what her 'look' was. She'd once been male, but like so many other things that'd been years ago. Her every gesture and movement were feminine, and had been so for as long as her scrambled memories could recall.
Rummaging around, she found an outfit he'd intended for them to wear during archeological digs. The riding beeches styled pants, loose blouse, and short jacket would work, she decided. The jacket would make her bust a little less prominent and made her feel a bit more comfortable. Footwear was unneeded and besides, they didn't have time for that anyway. Besides the whole point was for them to feel more like people and less like things and shoes weren't required for that. She'd spent most of her childhood barefoot.
“These are our key, or perhaps heart stones, is a better word.” Lapis felt much better facing this man, clothed as well as more confident. “The ones I've taken out belong to those of us who have awakened since that Bastard died. The others however, are still following their last instructions and are defending his dead body. Four have already been destroyed, their stones turning to dust. That leaves eleven powerful resources that only you, because you're still flesh and blood, can bind those stones.”
“No.” She sighed, watching another one disintegrate into dust. “And then there were ten.”
The cheerleader started to say something.
“No.” Lapis cut her off. “I trust that Grey Wolf, after this is over, will do the right thing. He kept his word and more. You, we don't know.”
“He saved us.” Ebony nodded, “I don't know if this is the right thing or not, but you better make up your mind fast. Here they come.”
“Crap!” The man cursed, very unhappy about having to make this choice. “Okay, what do I do?”
“Prick your finger enough so you bleed, and leave some blood on each one.” Lapis directed, looking at the first demons running towards them. Did the freaking things have any other speed other than an all out run, she wondered.
He glared at her his distaste at this plain to see. Making a shallow cut on his thumb, he pressed it on the first stone in the case she held.
“Ouch!” He jerked his hand away. “You didn't say the damned thing would shock me!”
“That's the magic binding the stone to you.” Lapis held up the box for him to continue. “Quick, do the others!”
He gave her the 'stink' eye, but quickly mashed his thumb onto the other stones before dancing back, shaking his hand from the pain.
Ow, ow, ow!” He managed to hold his hand still as Kobab appeared out of nowhere to put a bandage on his cut.
Then in a blur she was gone again.
“Now can we get out of here?” He was watching the lead line of demon-bird things go down in a messy crash which explained where the speedster had gone. Even with those short wings and tails to balance themselves, a good push could still over balance them when running. Some of the others behind them did go go down with them in the collision, but most just bounded over the top of the fallen and kept going.
“No.” Touch this one and say, 'Ruby, bring all your sisters to me.' She directed, pointing out the right stone.
“Now touch as many of the others as you can and say, 'Go with Ruby.” Lapis instructed.
“I have big hands.” He spread the aforementioned appendages over the nine stones and followed her instructions again. “I really don't like this, but can we go now?”
Emerald, standing some distance away, raised an arm. Seemingly, a bolt of lightning struck her from that black thunderhead over that Gate, but bounced off of her into the incoming wave of teeth and talons.
Dozens of the tightly packed bodies went down, but the horde barely slowed.
“Yes.” She closed the box after putting hers and the others awakened stones back inside. It was useful to be so quick. “Where is your transportation?”
“This way,” He replied, taking off running.
“Hey!” The cheerleader protested as Ebony picked her up again.
“Don't worry.” The polished wooden woman smiled. “I don't bite.”
“I don't like being treated like baggage.” She pouted.
“Would you prefer to take your chances on foot? Ebony asked, with raised brows. “I think those demons move considerably faster than you can run.”
“No,” The Cheerleader huffed. “This is fine.”
“Couldn't we have left that 'business' for later?” Grey Wolf asked, unhappy about it all.
“No.” Lapis replied. “Almost a third were destroyed to no purpose. It needed to be done before any more were lost.”
“And.” Ebony butted in. “You're a hero. Sure as death and taxes you would've come up with some morally logical reason for not indulging in necromancy.”
“Necromancy!” He almost fell as he tried to stop from a dead run.
“Yeah sure.” The black automata grinned at his shock. “You know blood binding spirits trapped in nefarious devices. However, I can sugarcoat it if you want.”
“There's a bright side to this?” He asked, as they ran past Miskatonic University.
“Oh sure there is.” She cheerfully continued. “None of us have a clue of what happened to those souls whose stones were destroyed. Given what we've seen of this summoning it's possible they were devoured by those demon-birds or whatever they are. You might've saved the mortal remains of those you bound. If you've truly earned the trust Lapis Lazuli has in you, then later under the proper conditions, you'll release them.”
“Okay.” He admitted. “That does make me feel a little better about this.”
Lapis, flying above them, saw the trouble first. Swarming around the corner of Main Street, the wave of demon things filled Garrison Street.
“Watch out!” She warned. “They got ahead of us and are heading right at us down Garrison Street.”
“Crap!” Grey cursed. “My van is off of College on the other side of the University. It has communications gear that should let us get the word out. I notified the Mystics Guild, as well as the Bureau, that something was up, but so far no one has responded.”
“That's the government for you.” Ebony gaily remarked. “Never there when you need them and all underfoot when you most definitely don't want them around.”
“We can cut across the campus.” Grey curved his path towards that way.
“If they have already got as far as Main Street and Garrison, then the odds are good they've already cut across to College Street as well. We'll be surrounded and pinned in the University. I might be able to fly everyone out in time, but then again I might not.”
“Can you fly me to my van while the rest make a run for it?” He asked.
“I think with Kobab and Emerald to cover us we can fight our way clear.” Ebony answered for her. “Levana's hand to hand skills aren't going to do us a lot of good.”
“However, if she'll carry the Cheerleader here, that'll free me to fight.” She looked at the white, metallic martial artist in question.
“I have no problem with that.” Levana answered. “This isn't my kind of fight, but I can easily carry her and keep up with any of you. Well, except for Kobab!” She added, smiling.
“You called?” The quicksilver speedster appeared next to her, with Emerald riding piggyback.
“Yes.” Lapis explained. “We're being surrounded by these bird-demon things, but we need Grey Wolf's van to let someone know about this. As a group you should be able to get clear while we get his van.”
“You know, splitting the group is always a bad idea.” Claire spoke just before Ebony tossed her to Levana.
“And I'm not a football either!” The Cheerleader squealed, objecting as she flew through the air.
Still holding the case, Lapis Lazuli held out a golden hand for him. Grasping hers with both of his in as secure a grip as he could, Grey gave her a nod that he was ready.
His feet left the ground, but rather surprised, he didn't feel as if he was holding his whole weight.
“Don't worry.” She said, with a smile as they climbed above the abandoned university grounds. “My flight field is taking care of a part of your weight and mass.”
“Well, that's handy.” He tried to downplay his and his wolf's uncomfortableness about dangling over thirty feet up and still climbing so they could make it over the top of the university's tall spires.
“There, on the other side of College Street, behind that maintenance shed.” He directed, trying not to think too much about the velocirator demons screaming down the street below them.
“I see it through the trees.” She said. “They haven't reached it yet, but its going to be tight.”
“Worse.” Grey replied, grimly. “They've slowed. Somehow they're in communications and are coordinating with each other. I don't think they have spotted us yet, but I could be wrong.”
“No choice.” She replied. “Just have your keys ready. I'll cover you.”
“I'm ahead of you.” Grey dared to let go with one hand, reaching for his key-less remote. “I can unlock and start the van with this. You can drop me on top of my van. There's a roof hatch.”
“All the options, huh?” She flew in an arc, trying to get as close as she could before being seen.
It was damned obvious when it happened. Everyone of those demons' heads turned and locked on them like missiles.
Clicking the buttons to unlock and start the van, Grey landed with a thump on its roof. Pushing the hatch open, he flipped himself inside. This wasn't the first time he had to make a hurried getaway. With a spray of gravel and snow he roared out onto the street.
With a screech one of the invaders found out that there was a good reason why he named his van the 'war wagon.' The reinforced frame and bumper didn't show a scratch as the demon bounced off, rolling into the street.
In the rear-view he saw one get close enough to swing onto the the back, but a second later was thrown off, left to tumble to a stop in the road. Its mates swarmed in pursuit.
“Emergency dial” Grey commanded his on-board systems. “Bureau of Superhuman Security.”
Lapis Lazuli's head appeared upside down in the roof hatch.
“The boarder has been dealt with.” She reported with a smile.
“This is the Bureau of Superhuman Security emergency response line.” A recorded voice informed them. “What is the nature of your crisis?”
“This is Grey Wolf.” He said aloud, taking the turn as fast as he dared, the tires squealing. “I have a Code Grover's Mill. I say again, I have a Code Grover's Mill. Beachhead is on Hangman's Hill, Arkham Massachusetts. It's a supernatural invasion from a summoning by the Golem Master. He's dead and several of the golems freed from his control are assisting me and a civilian I rescued in our escape.
“Impossible to estimate numbers of man-sized velocirator-like creatures, seen armed only with natural weapons so far.” He took another turn, running down a pack of demons that didn't get out of the way fast enough.
“They should not be underestimated.” He hoped he was getting all the facts across. “Five of the golems have so far been destroyed by the demons in extremely well coordinated attacks. Suspect they have some unknown method of communications able to cover at least several blocks.”
His passenger's sapphire haired head disappeared and the thumps on the roof said she was busy with unwanted guests again. A loud ripping sound tore through the van as a talon cut a long slash in a side panel.
“Be aware their claws can penetrate armored car class armor.” He continued as he sideswiped an abandoned old Ford so closely that the side mirror snapped along with the bird thing trying to use it's can opener claws on his war wagon.
Up ahead he saw an enormous projected hand made of darkness pick up an old Caddy and sling it another group of demons attacking from a side street. That had to be Ebony and the rest of their group.
“I'm gonna slow for them!” He yelled up at Lapi Lazuli.
Emerald loosed another of her redirected lightning bolts, downing another file of the demons, but the mob just kept coming. Kobab was a constant blur, but she too only slowed them up only slightly. That was, however, enough for Levana with Claire to jump inside the van.
The speedster then helped Ebony in while Lapis Lazuli flew Emerald in, landing back on the roof.
“Hold on!” Grey warned.
Smoking the tires, he accelerated hard. It was gratifying to see the damn things recede in the bent mirror that he'd mostly wrestled back into position. Even more relieving was the tumbling forms of the demons that the girls, riding on top, evicted with great prejudice.
“We're heading south down Highway 13 towards Dunwich.” Grey made another report.
“This is the Bureau, Agent White speaking.” He finally got a live person. “What is your situation?”
He repeated his report.
“I hope you guys got some major guns on the way, because you're going to need them. However, like I said, the golems once under the control of the Golem Master are cooperating and helping me. They're friendlies, got me?”
“Acknowledged.” Was the the curt reply.
“I don't think they like us.” Lapis Lazuli remarked, having listened to the whole thing from the overhead hatch.
“Nah!” Ebony laughed. “Really? Just because we kicked all of their asses for the last thirty years while we were that asshole's slaves? You'd think they held a grudge or something.”
“I surmise that all of us are going to have a very difficult time.” Levana added. “We all stand out and our history will work against us.”
“Forget what the law says.” Running effortlessly beside them, although they were pushing over 90 mph, Kobab agreed. “We're guilty until proven otherwise and that's going to be impossible.”
“We did do all those things.” Lapis Lazuli sighed. “I wish to Gawd that I didn't remember those parts. Being older, I've done more of those 'things' than most of you and the others too.”
“Just how did he catch you all anyway?” Grey asked. “When all was said and done he was just a normal.”
“Just a normal.” Ebony laughed. “He was the most dangerous person possible for a super. He was a researcher. Probably took him less than an afternoon for each of us to figure out who we were and where we lived.”
“If that.” Lapis Lazuli snorted. “My memories are still a mess, but I think he drugged the milk I usually had every night before going to bed. That's how he got most of us, by learning our daily routines and finding our weaknesses.”
“My celebration beer for my last heist was mine.” Kobab sighed. “I was so fast I used to snatch the bank bags right out of the armored car guards' hands as they loaded. Downright embarrassing how easily he got me.”
“Towards the end.” Lapis Lazuli recounted, sorrowfully. “When he couldn't find something quickly, he would send us to kidnap his victim. It was another sign, I think, like keeping us naked, that his madness had grown so great he wasn't really human anymore.”
“Not to interrupt your pity party.” Ebony cut in. “But Ruby and her barrel of monkeys have arrived.”
“Barrel of Monkeys?” Grey muttered, wondering, 'What now.'
“Yeah.” Lapis Lazuli explained. “Ruby's power is magnetism, so she could only lift and carry those automatons that are affected by it. However, that is why I had you order the others to go with her, so they would hitch rides.”
“From my count we didn't lose any more, but we've got to get a picture of this.” Ebony giggled. “And please don't tell me I just giggled. This girl thing is bad enough as is. None of the guys in my old gang will ever let me live this down.”
Using the remote surveillance camera in the dome on the war wagon's roof, he finally saw the whole picture.
Ruby, of course, had hair of jeweled ruby strands, while its body was a shiny black probably magnetite from what he knew of the Golem Master's methods. She floated above and behind his van, but was gaining fast. Along with her floated six others, but it was the other four that grabbed his attention. They hung from the others just like the plastic monkeys used to in that old kid's game. Like the golden woman had said, those were non metallic, or at least one looked like a woman shaped diamond.
As haphazard as that appeared, none looked to be in danger of falling. That was an advantage of being a golem he guessed. You don't have muscles to get tired. On the other hand, these others really bought into focus how Lapis Lazuli and the others who kept themselves sane somehow were alive, and these others weren't.
Levana for instance breathed, blinked, and except for being made of something that supposedly was inert, lived. Ruby, however, was as still as a statue. No flaring nostrils as she inhaled or any sign at all that she wasn't a solid construction of black mineral. There was just nothing.
“Quick!” Lapis Lazuli urged. “Tell Ruby to hang back behind and above a hundred feet.”
“Ruby.” He yelled out of the window. “Stay behind us at a hundred up.”
“Will that do?” He asked. There was no way he was going to use the word 'hanging.'
“Oh, it will.” She answered her head reappearing in the hatch as Ebony chuckled.
Even Levana smiled, but Claire grimaced.
“You're going to let her get away with that pun?” The cheerleader asked.
“It's best not to encourage her.” Kobab smiled too. “We have no idea where it might lead.”
“What about to a roadblock?” Claire pointed as they roared passed an old weathered sign displaying Dunwich, Mass, five miles.
Since he had the sensors already active, he rotated the camera around to the front. The magnification revealed a pair of Essex County deputy cruisers blocking the road. But the kicker was the Massachusetts Army National Guard M-113 tracked armored vehicle nestled between them. The thing was armed with a Ma Duce .50 caliber machine gun and would turn even the war wagon into so much Swiss cheese.
There was about a half dozen or so troops and deputies with an assortment of shotguns and assault rifles using the hood and trunks of the cars to brace their weapons.
“Aww Hell.” He cursed as he slowed the van pointing the camera back behind them.
There was a dark line of trouble coming fast on their heels. The range finder estimated the demons' speed at about 30 mph and there were untold numbers of them. It didn't take a genius to see that roadblock wouldn't hold for a single damn second.
“Connect Essex County Sheriff’s department frequency.” He commanded his system. “Deputies blocking Highway 13, I'm Gray Wolf in the van coming from Arkham. Be warned that the bogies fast on our heels are unfriendly and will overwhelm your position. Acknowledge please.” Grey tried to be diplomatic.
“You're not authorized to be on this frequency.” The officious droll voice on the other end replied. You're to come no closer or we will open fire. You understand me? Acknowledge please?” Was added sarcastically.
“We understand.” Grey shot back, disgusted.
“We can take them out real quick like.” Ebony pointed out. “They would never know what hit them.”
Everyone looked at her.
“I never claimed to be a goody two-shoes.” She raised her brows.
“Well,” Grey sighed. “I'm not about to play Red-Shirt and show those assholes how the monsters work. Can Ruby pick up the van with us and all the others too?”
“She should.” Lapis Lazuli nodded. “She once yanked out an entire walk-in safe out of a bank and flew off with it. That weighed tons compared to our few thousand pounds.”
“Good.” He made his decision. “We'll let her lift us up and out of the way while we'll try and help those stupid, sorry, doomed SOB's.”
“Dial, Bureau of Superhuman Security.” He ordered. “This is Grey Wolf.”
This time he got a live person immediately.
“This is Hyperion.” One of the Bureau's heavy hitters asked. “What's your situation?”
“I've got.” He began.
“Two thousand plus hostiles,” Levana helpfully added.
“Moving at approximately 30 mph heading right at a roadblock on Highway 13 about five miles outside of Dunwich.” Grey dryly told. “They've ordered us to halt, but unless they get their asses in gear they'll be demon chow in about ten minutes. Oh, by the way, we're not making any last stands. One of the rescued golems is going to lift us up and out of the way. I figure we can rain down some hurt on the demons, but it's not going to stop them. The Air Force carpet bombing the area might be a solution, but unless things have changed, the damn things were still pouring out of that Gate like ants of a kicked over nest.”
“I understand.” The hero answered. “We are on the way with Mystics Guild representatives. We will try to contact that roadblock. Hyperion out.”
“Well he was certainty a lot of help.” Ebony commented dryly.
“At least someone is taking this half-way serious.” Lapis Lazuli countered.
“They're still far behind the curve of what's needed.” Grey grunted. “Well, they've been warned.”
“Connect with Essex County Sheriff's Department frequency.” He ordered again.
“Dunwich roadblock, this Grey Wolf.” He did his best to keep his tone civil. “Since you've prevented us from seeking safety, we're going to go above what we think is the danger zone. We will provided as much supporting fire for you as we can, but if you're wise you'll bug out. Our best information says these things can make thirty mph, and that 113 of yours is going to be hard pressed to outrun them.”
“You will maintain your present....” The voice began.
“Cut connection.” Grey rolled his eyes. “Ruby, gently use your powers to pick up the van without bouncing the driver or passengers. Then lift us up to your same altitude and hold. If you can, shield us from gunfire coming from the south.”
His war wagon groaned as the weight was released from the shocks and springs as they were lifted into the air.
“I'm not going to be able to do much.” Emerald pointed out, looking out at the dark clouds that were still growing. “Calling the lightning would be a bad thing while I'm here. I can sorta direct it in their general direction by increasing the electrical potential of an area, but it's always more accurate to call it to me and then loose it.”
“Me neither.” Kobab shrugged. “But I don't want to be caught between the demons and that machine gun either. I can throw things pretty accurately, but that's going to be a drop in the bucket.”
“So we save you as our sniper.” Lapis Lazuli suggested. “Concentrate on covering those dumb-asses retreat when they come to their senses.
She turned to Grey.
“I know Wolf has got stuff for her to use.” The sapphire haired woman gave him a look.
“I might.” Grey grinned, as he pulled out a box of his 'wolf claws' throwing stars. “Although I don't know if you can throw these things that far.”
“I can.” The speedster smiled. “It's more about control and how fast you can accelerate them, than strength.”
“You've got a spare crossbow?” Levana asked. “I'm a reasonably good archer.”
“How about a recurve?” He retrieved the bow from its case. “It's a 60 pound pull, but I doubt you will have a problem with it.”
“No problem at all.” She accepted the bow and quiver. “I could've managed it before my incarnation, but now it's even less of an issue.
“I'll be on the roof acting as another sniper.” She swung herself lightly out of the window onto the roof.
“You know.” Claire said, to no one. “Nobody at school is going to believe any of this.”
“Probably not.” Grey replied. “However, you have a part in this too. It's easy for for us shooters to get fixated on our targets. I need for you to keep your eyes open for things like flying demons or groups of them cutting in behind that roadblock.
He watched her face as she looked at the tide of onrushing monsters.
“I can do that.” She whispered.
“Good!” Grey made himself sound cheerful. “Yell out Delta three times to get our attention and point to the trouble. Keep any descriptions as short and to the point as you can, okay?”
“Okay.” The Cheerleader gave him the thumbs up.
“I've talked to Emerald.” Lapis Lazuli and the bright blue girl with the green hair cornered him. “Her lightning won't bother me so I can fly her to where she can do the most good.”
“You two sure?” He grinned, inclining his head at Claire. “We've been cautioned about splitting the party.”
“That's not bad advice.” Emerald laughed, “But we won't be far away. Just enough so you're not in the danger zone.”
“Hey!” The Cheerleader complained. “I heard that!'
“It'll just power me up.” Lapis Lazuli smiled at him.
“That sounds like a plan.” He found himself smiling back. What was it about her that made it so hard to look away? Did he have a thing for tall women? Standing at six-two, Grey was not a little guy. However, she was a good head taller than him, but then again there weren't all that many women who were tall enough for him to find out.
“Before you go.” He kept his sigh to himself. “Open that box up again so I can give the golems some orders.”
Spreading his hands to cover all ten again, he marshaled his thoughts.
“As a group you will respond to Wolf Pack. When that advancing line of demons comes with range, any of you who are able will engage with ranged attacks. You are to pace yourself so you can continue attacking for as long as possible taking care not to injuring anyone with the exception of the foes designated as demons.
“Understand, Wolf Pack?” He asked.
“Yes Master.” All ten chorused.
“ Wolf Pack, I'm to be addressed as Alpha.” Grey winced at the old bastard's title. He was no one's master, doubling his determination to see all of these victims dealt with fairly.
“Understand?” He asked again, feeling his wolf's pleasure at being a pack leader. Down boy! Grey mentally scolded his spirit.
“Yes Alpha.” The ten answered.
“You two know what you do best.” He said, to the woman now closing the box of stones.
“Ready?” Lapis Lazuli asked Emerald.
“Let's go show some demons why you shouldn't go out in a storm.” The blue gold woman gestured to the outside.
Carrying Emerald, Lapis flew past the unawakened automatons. Already a few were attacking the advancing demonic wave. Lasers swept over the front lines from Kaspit, while Topaz rained down exploding fireballs.
There was a good reason why those two had been part of the Six. However, she did wonder about how three of the six had awakened, but only two of the others had. Did somehow being able preserve some part of themselves make them more useful to the Bastard?
“So what's up with you and your boyfriend?” Emerald asked.
“You do realize I'm holding you up a hundred feet up in the air above a field swarming with thousands of demons, right?” Lapis asked, even if the green jewel headed girl did have a good question. What was up between her and Grey Wolf? She couldn't get it out of her mind that he'd had come for her.
“Ooo!” Emerald giggled. “So there is something and you don't want to talk about it.”
“Will you please keep your mind on business?” Lapis complained.
“Standby.” Her companion turned serious. “Brace yourself. Here comes the big one.”
A bolt from the heavens struck them. Way back when she first got her powers, being 'hit' like that would've hurt like hell, even if it wouldn't have killed her. Now, after Levana's term, her 'reincarnation,' as well as years of learning how her power worked, had taught that she had to consciously not suck up all that energy that flowed into Emerald.
“What goes in has to come out!” The blue and green girl spread her hands, sending out a crackling wave of energy that arced from her fingers to their enemies below. Scores went down, but again the demons barely slowed. Some few of the closest tried leaping up at them, but although they came closer than she thought they could, clearing 50 to 60 feet into the air, none reached high enough to touch them.
“I know that I've spent years like this.” Emerald complained. “But my last memories of me are as a man. Now I find myself acting girly and even giggling for Gawd's sake. I take it that our abductor did more than just torturing us to death and turning us into these golem things?”
Others of the Wolf Pack began their attacks. More beams and bursts of different kinds raked the swiftly advancing front.
“Here comes some more.” Emerald warned as lightning struck twice.
Lapis drank deep of the splashed over power. The energy turbocharged her physical body's already considerable prowess, making her stronger, faster, and tougher than any, but a very select few. That was the 'gift' the bastard had given her. Before this reincarnation she was a 'B' rated hero, but all it took was the loss of her humanity and over thirty years of her life, if this counted as life.
“You really don't want to know.” She told the animated lightning rod. “The death of a super-powered hero was only a small part of the evil that went into the making of one of us. We resemble true golems about as much bottle rockets are like Saturn Fives. Superficially, vaguely similar, but not really.”
“Eat your heart out Benny Franklin baby!” Emerald warned again, as yet another bolt engulfed them.
Again, aimed bolts zapped from her hands scything down rows of the demons, but the rushing horde never faltered. Lapis could see no end to the dark tide that seemingly devoured all in their path.
“The very name, golem, means crude and misshapen.” She explained to her blue-gold companion. “We're anything but that. He designed us as carefully as any team of engineers does a jet. In our own way we are as sophisticated as anything those engineers have ever built. When he did make mistakes, it was in having the wrong information or his blind spots.
“Blind spots?” Emerald asked, but warned. “Power on!”
“Let's try something different.” The lightning endowed woman blasted the very old utility poles causing the ancient unused power-lines to fall amidst the demonic host.
Grey Wolf must've seen her plan because he ordered the Wolf Pack to target the other poles that still stood too.
“And now we add some juice!” Emerald exclaimed. “Just like plugging your finger into a light socket!”
“Didn't anyone tell you as a child that was bad?' Lapis asked, as they were hit once more by enough raw electrical power to light up a city.
“No.” Emerald laughed. “Maybe that's how I ended up this way, but honestly I was once a hero. Then I became a supervillainess minion to an insane lunatic. Now, I'm just a pissed off bitch getting some payback!”
The lightning hit the fallen power-lines and surged down them like shaped explosive charges, frying many of the demons packed shoulder to shoulder on the road.
Behind them, they heard the staccato roar of that machine gun from that Army armored personnel carrier. At least the asses hadn't fired on the good guys. Sparing the roadblock a glance, she saw that the county mounties were hightailing it away, fast. The APC was retreating as well, but Lapis could see it wasn't widening its lead. It was a race to see who would win.
Checking on Grey Wolf, he was following the Army machine using the Pack to cover its escape. Turning her attention back to the battlefield, she was grateful these bird-demon things weren't humans. Even with the blustery storm clouds, the stench of death blew strong. Hundreds were dead with more still moving, but hurt. It seemed the only way to stop them was to kill them dead. Anything less only slowed the bird-demons.
That was a problem because they were also damn tough. It took a lot to put one down for the count even for the Wolf Pack. Despite the numbers of dead beneath them, there should've been many more. Just as worrying, was that all the badly injured ones that one would expect to die of their wounds, had secreted some kind of cocoon suggesting these wouldn't be out of action for long.
In the distance, the ground was black, covered with the demon-birds all the way to the horizon. Not a tree nor any other living thing could be seen. With a chill she realized that Bastard might've really done it. Blaming the whole world for the Holocaust, in his insanity, he sought to destroy it, to end everything.
She was well aware of mankind's short comings. For all of the natural disasters that killed thousands, that paled beside the death man dealt to their own kind. Lust for power, intolerance, bigotry, and hatred in all of its forms were ugly, ugly things.
In a lot of ways that was why, as the young man she'd once been, he had put on a mask and tried to make things better. There is no fool like an idealist, but someone had to take a stand. That person had powers and abilities that could, and she would like to think 'did,' make a difference.
Or at least they had before being tortured and sacrificed on the altar of a madman's hatred of Nazis. Now she was broken inside, although far more powerful on the outside. Her own need for revenge had kept her going after awakening from those long decades of hiding like a child from the monster in the dark.
Even now she had kept going only because proof that the Bastard's plan to destroy the world was unfolding right before her eyes. She would not be the person she'd been, the person she was, if she could let that happen without doing everything she could to stop it.
When all was said and done, Lapis was still a heroine.
“You were talking about that SOB's blind spots?” Emerald reminded her, as another lightning bolt thundered away.
“Sure.” She replied. “His ego and madness demanded unquestioning devotion, but we're more than just our powers and abilities. Many of our talents and skills were hard earned, but he couldn't conceive that someone other than he might rise above and beyond themselves.”
“You've got that right.” Emerald loosed another volley of bolts on the downed electrical lines as the horde unwisely continued it's advance. “It's a much an art as physics to convince these oversized electric sparks to go where you want, instead of following the path of least resistance.
“This 'incarnation' of mine can certainly handle a lot more power than I ever could before.” She drew in another of Zeus's legendary weapons for her own use. “And I can pull it in from further away, but inside I feel so disjointed and out of sorts I know I'm not at my best.”
Listening to her companion and nodding because Lapis felt much the same way, she observed that while they had, by brute force, blasted a hole into the 'center' of the demons' advance and the ends were curving around in a classic military envelopment. Plus, those 'wings' looked to have sped up to an all out, sprinting charge.
The sheriff's cruisers would escape, but not that Army APC.
“We've got trouble.” She alerted her passenger as she flew to one of what the Zulu of old would've called one of the 'horns' of the attack as it swept around.
“I see it.” Emerald called more power to herself. “It's a good thing this is a huge storm. Even a thunderstorm has just so much energy and we've been tapping this one like crazy.”
“The Wolf Pack is shifting their targets now too.” Lapis noticed relieved. Not having communications was a liability, but it was something they had to live with for now.
“So, do I need to ask you again about tall, grey, and and handsome?” Emerald 'lit-up' the fresh group of speeding demons.
“Back at that museum last Thanksgiving.” Lapis sighed. “When Grey Wolf discovered us, the Bastard ordered me to defeat the hero and dump his body in the river. So I beat him up until he admitted I defeated him and did just that. I dropped him in the river, but in the shallows.”
“How in hell did you do that?” Emerald asked, awed. “I had times when I was almost awake, but it didn't take me long to want more than anything not to be. I had no freedom of action at all, although I love how you found the loopholes in the old SOB's orders.”
“I don't know.” Lapis admitted. “I was hiding like a whipped pup in the furthest part of my mind because of what he did to me. Something woke me. I was still shackled to the spells on that stone, but I could act on anything not covered by it or his orders, which admittedly wasn't much. The anal retentive Bastard would've been a life long bachelor even if he hadn't gone insane. No one would've willingly put up his crap for very long.”
“So he made us.” Emerald sighed, as she poured more death upon the demon-birds.
“He made us.” The Golden woman repeated, not trying to think of the other ways they were 'used' by him. “I'm sure the Bureau's profilers had some of it right. Golems were a Jewish symbol and some did see them as protectors. However, as much as the Bastard did need the muscle we provided, he also wanted an audience for that humongous ego of his, as well as living out his university professor sexual fantasies.”
Her morbid train of thought was disrupted by a gold and silver spandex blur that crashed into the center of the forward surging horde. Since Emerald and the Pack had turned their attention to the more immediate threat of the 'wings' closing in from the sides, the demons along the road had recovered and were moving again.
“And thus enters the Bureau.” Lapis wanted to be surprised, but just couldn't. The wave of demons flying into the air from the impact simply said it all. No matter that Grey Wolf had warned everyone that these things were not to be taken lightly, The big idjit himself had charged literally right into the middle of the demons.
Hyperion was one of the most powerful supers on the planet. All anyone had to do was ask him. There were those who were stronger, and others who were faster, as well as those who were tougher. However, there were none who were as strong, fast and as invulnerable to harm all in the same package. The same went for his flying, the Hyper-vision, and all the other powers he had. Nobody else came close at having all the powers he had, much less at the level he possessed. There were some who said he had a right to be an arrogant ass, all things considered.
Victrix his Roman demi-goddess team mate had, at least the common sense not to dive into the middle of the ravening legions of demons. Throwing javelins of lightning, she hopelessly tried to support her foolish leader, who was dog-piled by his enemies.
He would shrug off his attackers only to be swept off his feet again as the demons used their claws and outsized talons to rip and tear to such effect they put wood-chippers to shame. In the space of heartbeats his uniform was in tatters, and even he had wounds, if shallow ones. No sooner would he climb to a knee than a scything tail would send him to the ground anew.
Finally realizing he just might be in trouble, he tried to lift off from the prone position. However, he was blind from the press of bodies as well as disoriented from being knocked about. No sooner had he left the ground then a well timed tackle by more demon-birds had him dog-piled again.
Sollarc, his team mate, cut loose with a plasma burst, but he couldn't get too close without hitting his team leader. Victrix attempted to get in closer, but had to batter away determined attacks by supporting leaping demons.
“Okay.” Lapis came out with it. “Grey came for us, me. He didn't give up, but kept at it until he found us and then he put a crossbow bolt through the heart of the monster who'd enslaved us for years. So yes, I feel something even if I'm not sure of what it is.”
“Good.” Emerald smiled up at her. “I wanted to be sure I wasn't the only one who was having feelings I couldn't identify.”
“So shall we go down there and rescue the butt-head?” She asked, not giving Lapis a chance to reply.
“Might as well.” The golden woman sighed. “Sollarc would be so much more effective at cutting their envelopment apart. Can you clear out a circle around him?”
“No problem!” Her passenger replied. “I even have a solution to those leapers. We'll let them hit, but calling a bolt or two to us should clear them off. Since you're holding me, I can grab him. Hope he isn’t bothered by a little juice.” Sparks arced between her outstretched fingers.
“He's a big boy.” Lapis could remember rather energetic confrontations with Hyperion and his team. It wouldn't bother her at all if he was discomforted. “I'm sure he can take it, but first let's give his team mates the heads up so we don't get shot in the back.”
“Victrix.” She shouted, flying to the rescue. “Cover us. We're going in.”
“She speaks?” The Roman styled, armor attired woman looked up at them startled.
“I can also play cards, and drink beer, but please don't paint any velvet paintings of us.” Lapis riposted. “If you would use your point attacks to help out when we hit the ground it'd be greatly appreciated.”
Sollarc in his yellow sunburst marked red power-suit gave his more senior team mate a questioning expression, but Victrix only nodded her approval while preparing more of her javelins for battle.
“Ready Emerald?” Lapis asked, her partner accelerating to her full speed.
“Let's do it.” Emerald answered. “Be aware of power-ups the second we have leapers incoming. Kind of hard for them to change direction in mid-air even if they do have stubby wings.”
“That's fine.” She replied, letting gravity add to their speed. “I'm in the mood for fried chicken.”
It was actually pretty damn amazing to watch. As they got within about 60 feet of the ground, the first demons began their run-ups. If not for the fact she and Emerald were the targets it would nearly a thing of beauty, almost as if choreographed for some Hollywood blockbuster. In a stream of leaping teeth, claws, and talons, death came at them.
And promptly got fried by the incoming bolt from the heavens. One actually took the whole force, exploding before the energy flowed into her blue-gold partner. Not being foolish, Lapis did dodge some of the murderous demons, but there were so many it was impossible to miss them all.
However, it was a lot like the world's biggest bug zapper with Emerald carefully measuring out her accrued energy. As they got closer to the ground yet another 'power-up' hit, blasting more into smoking ruin.
Spreading her hands, the lightning arced in a circle about the mound of demons centered on the not too wise hero. Many were thrown off or, if too close, got cooked in the crackling aura.
Thankfully, plasma rained down by Sollarc kept the endless numbers temporarily at bay, while deadly accurate javelins from Victrix cut down the numbers within that circle of death.
What was left got hurled away as Hyperion fought his way to his feet. She'd long speculated that his uniform top was made of lesser strength material just so in difficult fights he could show off his perfect musculature and six pack abs. That theory gained supporting evidence, since the only attire he had that wasn't shredded to ribbons was his trousers and boots and even they were the worse for wear.
“I knew that rumors of those foul creations achieving freedom and working for the cause of right were false.” He was covered in shallow bleeding cuts from the talons that could slice through plate armor with ease. “I will not go down without a fight, so swears Hyperion!”
“Oh shut up!” Emerald giggled as she let loose with another chain of arcing energy expanding their temporary circle.
“We're here to rescue you, doofus.” Lapis snorted, swooping in so her partner could grab the idjit.
“Huh?” Was the hero's reply as he was lifted out of that abattoir.
“There you have it folks!” Emerald's hand's flashed as more demons rushed at them. “More witty replies from our brave, if not too smart, hero.”
“You're talking!” He exclaimed, kicking a gnawing demon off his leg.
“What part of free did you not understand?” Lapis shot upwards as fast as she dared. “You know, 'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness,' She quoted.
“You can't talk to me like that!” Hyperion retorted angrily. “Don't you know who I am?”
“Oh, yeah.” Emerald giggled. “We know alright.”
“You're the one who barreled right into an army of demons after being warned they could rip through armor plate.” Lapis answered. “Then we had to come and pull you out after they dog-piled your ass.”
“I'm buying time for that brave Army crew to escape.” He pompously defended himself.
“Then why didn't you just pick the damn thing up and carry it to safety.” Lapis raised an eyebrow. “You're more than strong enough, but speaking of which that still wouldn't be a bad idea.”
Without their fire support help, the demons were right on the APC's tail, but someone had to go and pull the hero's fat out of the fire.
“You can let go, now.” He huffed, unhappily. “I can fly, you know.”
“Be free little birdie!” Emerald released him, giggling again.
He shot over like a bullet to rescue the APC as they followed behind slower still blasting away at the endless horde.
“I can't believe you told him off like that.” Victrix laughed. “The gods must be smiling upon me, granting such great favor.”
“No insult.” Lapis replied. “But if the gods are indeed watching we could use a little more practical help here. Unless we can get a hold on this situation quick we're in real trouble. That mad man intended on destroying the world and he was nothing if not a brilliant researcher.”
“Agreed” Victrix nodded, her star spangled blue cape with Rome's eagle in gold flying in the storm's winds.
Everyone looked overhead as a flight of jets thundered above them heading for Arkham. Moments later the roar of distant explosions reached them.
“That's not going to stop this.” Lapis stated bluntly. “That Gate is going to have to be closed. All the bombs in the world aren't going to stop that.”
“Come.” The heroine beckoned. “It is time to talk and plan.”
“Besides.” Emerald grinned up at Lapis. “As much as I like you. I really am ready to be back on my own two feet again.”
“Well, our ride is leaving without us so we better catch up!” Lapis gestured at the van and the Wolf Pack. “I don't think even Ruby can carry it all day long.”
More jets flew over. Bombs fells from their wings on the tide of demons. It was more, but it still wasn't enough. It wasn't even close. She only hoped Dunwich got evacuated in time, watching the town get engulfed in demons.
They had to get more hands on this thing. At least Victrix had been open minded about their checkered past. She could only hope that others would show more of that tolerance. The world was going to need it.
Grey didn’t have to look over at Lapis Lazuli and her awakened sisters to know they weren't happy. Hell, he wasn't happy either. Hyperion and a Mystic Guild wizard named Sazonox, had basically ignored them during the entire meeting.
The session in the roadhouse bar turned emergency headquarters, had begun with Bladestorm, the Bureau team's stealth specialist making her reconnaissance report of what she found at Arkham and Hangman's hill. She confirmed that the Gate was still open and that the entire hillside was barren of any vegetation as more demons poured out with every second. Pointing out on the map that was spread out on the pool table, she indicated just how far the demons had advanced.
Then he and Claire had been questioned about what they'd witnessed, but the 'girls' had been pointedly left out. It wasn't until Grey himself had asked Lapis to tell what happened that they heard that part of the story.
He did see that, once she began, neither one interrupted. It was morbidly fascinating to hear that all of this was triggered by a Death Camp prison guard that the Golem Master had been after for decades. Hidden, the ex-Nazi was discovered only after he'd died at a ripe old age in his nineties. The proof that his enemies were 'using' death by old age to escape his wrath seemed to have finally broken something that was already thoroughly wrecked.
That incident lead to the top of Hangman's Hill on the Spring Equinox. Well, with a few bypasses like the Hawkmoon museum and getting his arm broken. That thought had him looking at her again. He just couldn't forget the moment he truly saw her. The fire and passion in her so bright, emerald green eyes had burned themselves into his memory.
True, she was as perfect an expression of beauty as any work of art. However, it was the soul within that made her beautiful.
Her catching him staring caused him to blush like he was still in high school. Her own answering coppery bloom made him turn even redder.
Victrix's raised and amused brow didn't help things whatsoever. Perhaps it was her own familiarity with the mythic world that made the Roman demi-goddess so tolerant, but she was one of the few in the room who did.
Grey might've been distracted, but neither he nor his wolf missed the sideways glances that the wizard and his entourage gave the 'box' Lapis Lazuli carried. She'd made it damn plain that she trusted no one at all with it, with the possible exception of Grey. Even her other freed sisters weren't completely within that circle of trust.
Frankly, he absolutely understood and agreed with her paranoia. In the stones that lay within, were the very souls of fifteen superhumans. Possessing those stones would let the unscrupulous control, enslave them. After spending more of her unlife as a slave than she'd spent alive and free, Lapis Lazuli wasn't about to let that happen again.
Even as far as her sisters went, Kobab and Ebony had been super-villains. Zip the speedster had been infamous for his high speed snatch and grabs. He'd been the purse-snatcher of the super-villain world. A thief, yes, but he avoided unduly hurting anyone, and got into fights only when cornered which wasn't easy, considering how damn fast he was. When it had occurred, they learned just how damn good of a fighter he really was. He avoided combat because he wanted to, not because he didn't know how to mix it up.
Black Hand was completely different. He'd worked more as a mercenary than an outright criminal, but only because he carefully picked and chose his employers. An ex-special forces soldier with multiple combat tours in Southeast Asia under his belt, it was rumored he'd learned to project that black energy of his while deep in jungles few dared to venture into. While a gun for hire, he'd been very careful not to give the USA cause to arrest or send him back to those who held grievances against him. He'd been a firm believer in not crapping in his own backyard, not that anyone state-side had been very happy with him.
As far as that went, even Emerald and Levana, who'd been heroes, were vulnerable right now too. The blue-gold lightning slinger, more than the martial artist, given she'd once been male. All someone might have to do is offer a way of giving that back.
Levana, on the other hand, was one of the few females who'd been made into a golem. Grey wondered if that was simply because the guys had the powerful abilities the lunatic wanted, or that he had some other motive that was more perverted.
Both had families and those they'd cared for, before the two were kidnapped and murdered. The files he'd filched last New Years had given only the most basic details, but it'd been many years since then. Their children were grown up and their respective partners had moved on.
No matter how you looked at it, they had all been through so much and it would be so easy to hurt them even more.
And then there was Lapis Lazuli. Somehow she'd stayed more balanced than the others, but he didn't make the mistake of thinking that her tower of strength was limitless. She too had once been male and had also been abused in so many ways that he couldn't even imagine.
And the fate of the world may depend on them.
Air Force drones over the area officially confirmed Bladestorm's report and that despite the bombing, more demons were pouring though with every second. More Air Force planes were on the way, but although an unnamed nearby air base did keep some munitions on hand just because of Arkham's history, even they weren't ready for a war at the drop of a hat.
More heroes were coming too, as the Bureau Of Superhuman Security got their act together. However, they weren't here yet, and the cities of Salem and Boston weren't that far away.
Like the rednecks say, you have to race what you bought to the track. These were the resources at hand and they had no choice but to make do.
“Given what we've been told.” Sazonox announced arrogantly. “I do have a solution. As nonstandard as this summoning appears, I am confident that a previously prepared enchantment will suffice to close this portal.”
One of his entourage unveiled a wooden plaque that was covered in runes and other symbols.
“The Guild has long been aware of the dangers that mystic instability about Arkham and its surrounding environs presented. This charm should disrupt and close that rift permanently, although the pestilence that has already entered our world will have to be dealt with.”
Grey kept his snort away. Only this prick could call several thousand velociraptor like demons a pestilence like they were mere insects. Given the ass's ego he probably saw everyone as bugs.
“We are fortunate to have those who can deliver the charm though to the other side of the portal.” He looked right at Lapis Lazuli.
Who busted out laughing.
“I have a better idea.” She giggled. “Why doesn't Hyperion fly your suicide, one way trip into that Demon's Gate? Then he could show the whole world what a big hero he is.”
“You act as if we're giving you a choice!” Sazonox imperiously gestured, holding out his hand as if reaching for the box she held.
The wizard's face was a study as nothing happened and she erupted into laughter again. This time her four sisters joined her.
Others laughed as well, including Victrix, Sollarc and Bladestorm. It seemed they weren't fans of the Guild either.
Grey couldn't keep his chuckles away either, since he'd noticed Hyperion's surprise as well. So the hero had been in on this. He'd heard rumors that Hyperion just didn't live up to his public persona, but this? It was so obviously petty in return for them having to rescue him from his own foolishness, that he lost whatever respect he used to have for the hero.
“Did you actually expect that to succeed?” Victrix never stopped laughing. “These Amazons have fought all of us to standstills many times in the past and that was when they were shackled to another's will.”
“Please forgive my comrade's foolishness.” The Roman demi-goddess turned to Lapis Lazulia and Grey. “We are in need of your strong arms and shields. Can you be of aid to us in this dire hour?”
“As I was about to add.” Lapis Lazuli's eyes sparkled as she answered. “Or you can provide full pardons for all of us, as well as official acknowledgment that we are people, with all the rights and protections that entails.”
“If I may?” Grey asked to have his say.
Ignoring the sour and hostile looks from her team mate and the Guild-man, Victrix gave him a nod.
“These individuals have done the impossible.” He glared at those who tried to sacrifice them for their own ends. “After years, decades, of having their bodies and wills torn from them, they kept some part of themselves alive. I know only a small bit of what all of them went through and I'm horrified, but amazed and astounded at their survival.
“If anything.” He didn't drop his gaze. “They need care and assistance, as well as the others who appear so badly hurt they act like the robots they look like. However, all are here, ready to defend this country, this world. Please treat them with respect.”
There was silence in the command post except for the radios and other background noise.
He barely kept his disappointment from showing, as particularly the Guild representatives could hardly keep their avarice to themselves. Their greed for what Lapis Lazuli carried in that box made him sick. He'd always known the Guild really wasn't a superhero organization. It was more of one that policed their own, but had their own agenda's. Some did follow the path of the hero, but that wasn't the Guild's mandate. In exchange for keeping the supernatural and other magical 'problems' under some kind of control, the Bureau left the Guild to run its own affairs.
“I want to add.” Lapis Lazuli spoke again. “That's only after we have all of that in writing, with the appropriate seals and guarantees, then we'll sit down and plan out how to close that thing.
'Oh,” She looked the wizard in the eyes. “I know that it requires life essence to cross that 'portal.' The Bastard used us on several occasions regarding gates. We might've been 'made,' but the force that drives us is the same thing that gives life to all living things. I am aware of the laws in respect to creations that such as we might be considered.”
“For decades.” Ebony shook her mass of black hair. “We involuntarily served one of the smartest, craziest Sonsofbitches on this planet. During about half of that time, he treated us as his students, right up to having us dress as schoolgirls. Like it or not, we've listened to endless lectures on alchemy, summoning, and other things that rated 'X' doesn't even come close to covering. So don't think for an instant that you can use techno-babble or magical mumbo jumbo to pull the wool over our eyes. The odds are we know more about it than you do!”
The dark, polished, wooden woman crossed her arms defiantly.
“That is why we're worth those pardons and exceptions to the existing laws, even if by the spirit of those same laws, we're exempt from them anyways.” Emerald took her turn. “Oh, and by the way, I was a lawyer once upon a time so those documents had better have every 'T' crossed and each 'I' dotted.”
“We also reserve the right.” Levana spoke. “Of agreeing to this plan or not. We will not commit to suicide and it will not be us alone. It had better include all of the available assets. Our lives are just as important to us as yours are to you.”
“That deal does include our sisters who did not wake when we were freed.” Lapis Lazuli clarified “The essence of the person who was sacrificed to give these shells life is still inside. Otherwise they would be as inanimate as this billiard table. As such, they need care and attention as well as examination to help determine what is the best treatment for them.
“They are still here because The Bastard was trying to destroy the world and, from what we've seen, he may have succeeded.” Lapis Lazuli didn't pull any punches. “To close that Gate may take everything we've got and, like it or not, ten women with superpowers might be able to give us that edge. We'll deal with the fallout if any of us are still alive to talk about it.”
“I'll have to contact the Bureau.” Hyperion sourly replied. “I don't have the authority to okay any agreements like that.”
While they waited, Grey made sure Claire was sent to safety. At least one person who stood on that hill would survive.
“Hey,” The Cheerleader looked up at the seven foot tall woman. “Watch out for each other, okay? I owe both of you for seeing I didn't end up dinosaur food.”
Watching her go, Grey found himself holding Lapis's hand, but when she didn't object, he made no move to stop. He completely missed everyone else smiling and grinning at them. Well, with the exception of if they were part of the Guild or a hero named Hyperion.
She flew over the smoking, shattered remains of Arkham. Fires raged unrestrained, whipped by the wild stormy winds that, thankfully, carried the stench of roasted demon away. Reports from the jet pilots said that the hazardous weather was bad enough to make attack runs here very risky.
Lapis agreed with them as she fought the gusty, icy winds spitting sleet and snow. Ebony flew at her side. While not a fast flier, her dark sister rode on one of the black-hand projections like a genie on a magic carpet. However since she used her actual hands to control the darkness she produced, using one to fly, cut back on her ability to do other things like defending and attacking. Then again, she could also carry others when flying which was a major part of what had made her such an effective mercenary and later a member of the Six, her sheer versatility.
Emerald, Kobab, and Levana rode with her now, which more than made up for any lack of offensive power. Grey Wolf's van had been pressed back into duty as a transport as Ruby carried it with her magnetic powers.
Hyperion, Victrix, Sollarc, and Bladestorm were flying along side. The Bureau had come through on the pardons and painfully carefully worded exemptions that stated they were 'transformed' victims of that madman and not soulless constructs or undead. The Mystics Guild wasn't happy about it one damn bit, but Lapis couldn't care less. She, her sisters, and Grey Wolf had the authorities over a barrel, and she wasn't about to let the opportunity go to waste. Justice would be done, even if the supposed defenders of what was right were going to choke on it.
Like it or not, The Six had been the Bastard's muscle and the hands he used to enforce his will. They had done such evil in his name, even if they'd been helpless to resist or stop him.
She'd been disappointed when she'd broken that pentagram, that the monsters hadn't just taken the Bastard right then and there. The reason why she'd been able to do anything at all was conflicting orders. One was to guard and make certain that no one disturbed the summoning, but an older command was to always protect him from harm.
However, the pentagram itself may or may not have protected that evil old man from the bolt. If magical in any way, it would've bounced off. The odds had been great that anyone gunning for the Golem Master would've been using just that.
To her at the time, the chances for that monster to die were much higher if she'd disrupted the pentagram which was what she did. That ass Sazonox did call it right when he called this Gate 'nonstandard.' The Gate should've disappeared, taking the Bastard with it. In no way was the SOB even vaguely a virgin or innocent, so his blood should not have opened the thing at all.
Then again the fact he had tried at all indicated he had known something none of them did. That worried the hell out of her, but they had no choice except to trust the 'experts.'
Given the wizards' frank greed for the Bastard's blackest secrets, Ebony summed it up by saying, “She would keep one hand on her wallet while the wizards were around.”
They all understood that those stones that held all of their souls were at stake. Perhaps not all who studied magic were evil SOB's, but understandably, none of the Bastard's victims were particularly trusting of those who studied the magical arts.
It was even possible that they did honestly only want to study what was done and not to try to take control of her and the other automatons, but not a one of them was willing to give any damn one the slightest chance or opportunity.
Even Grey Wolf, who she perhaps trusted more than anyone, wasn't trusted with the stones of her and the other awakened. The ones she'd begun calling her sisters for lack of any better terminology weren't allowed access to that so precious box either.
Rather surprisingly, they didn't have a problem with that. All four simply accepted it, but Lapis learned it also meant she got four bodyguards. Well, if you could call the overcompensating, wise cracking, somewhat damaged souls in these bodies of precious metals and gems, protection.
The flight of Air Force fighter-bombers heavily loaded down with all kinds of nasty stuff roared by. That was their signal. The top of Hangman's hill disappeared in a hell-storm of fire and smoke as tons of explosives and incendiaries burned it clear of demons.
Grasping the Wizard's charm, she dove into the inferno as her sisters, Grey's Wolf Pack, and the Bureau followed to support her.
Flying up out of the smoke a demon-bird screamed as it kamikazed into her. It's talons tried to gore her while the toothed beak snapped at her head.
Snarling right back, Lapis's right hand pistoned like a machine crushing the demon's skull like an egg-shell. Much of the energy she'd absorbed from Emerald's thunder and lightning show still remained. There wasn't much that she couldn't pulverize.
“Shit!” Ebony cussed. “These can fly!”
Leaner and with wings large enough to allow flight, the demons rose to meet them, some literally still burning from the incendiaries.
“And they can fall.” Levana calmly put an arrow through the eye of one as it tried to attack Ebony. “As armored as they are, they are still vulnerable.”
Hundreds of more demons rose up out of the dust and smoke of the bombing. Lapis took her attackers corpse and slung it into the rising flock. The Wolf Pack opened up with their mixed salad of lasers, fire, ice and just about everything else anyone could imagine.
Hyperion, in a wild spinning dive, smashed into them taking out a half dozen. Following close behind, Victrix's gladius left a stream of blood splashing in the wind. Bladestorm's whirling energy blades carved another path of gore as Sollarc's plasma ignited the demons.
“Yee-Haw!” With a rebel yell any of her ancestors would've been proud of, she rocketed past the defenders to the bomb blasted hilltop.
Using the emerging demons from the Gate to break her fall, she discovered that the demons had been exiting from both sides of the upright black disk. That explained some of the impossible numbers that they'd seen.
However, even with the whole hillside bombed and looking like the moon from all the craters, hundreds of demons survived. All about her, winged demons, hurt in previous bombing attacks were tearing themselves free of the cocoons they'd woven to heal themselves.
Since land bound bird-demons were still pouring through the Gate, the cocoons had to be some kind of adaptive mechanism letting them transform themselves to deal with changing conditions. If so, that made them all that more dangerous and all the more reason to end this now.
About her, the melee strong members of the Wolf Pack had landed, as well as Victrix and Levana.
“Amazon!” Yelled the Roman as she beheaded a foe. “We have your back.”
“Let's end this!” Lapis answered as she fought the tide of bodies from the Gate.
Conserving her energy reserves, she drew on it to heighten her speed since she was already strong enough to deal significant damage to these monsters. It was their numbers and coordination that made them truly dangerous to her.
She'd almost made it close enough to use the charm when she was jerked off of her feet, Hyperion!
He'd grabbed the so important box she'd slung over her shoulder.
“Nobody makes me look like a fool!” He barked, nastily.
His eyes flashed bright as his Hyper-vision cut the box's strap as he flew straight up, slinging her into the Gate.
Seeing his plan, Lapis twisted, holding out her left hand with the charm. This wasn't what she'd intended, but she still remembered how to improvise.
Her left hand and the charm went into the Gate as she used her flight to angle her body over the top like a pole vaulter, going over the bar.
Instantly the Gate vanished leaving parts of demons behind which had been in mid-transit along with her hand.
Clutching the stump, she flew upwards. There was a certain asshole she wanted a piece of.
Three weeks later
Isla De Los Dragones
“I wish I could've seen his face when he opened up that box!” Grey laughed, reclining on his beach towel. “But we were a little busy. When you guys touched down to close that Gate, each and every one of those damn demons did a one-eighty right back to defend it. In a way that was good since that drew all of them back towards Arkham and kept them out of Salem, but at the time it sure didn't feel like it.”
He took a long pull at his fruity drink. Lapis Lazuli was at his side dressed in a one piece swimsuit while browsing the news on her tablet. For all that they would deny it, Ebony and Kobab were flirting with a pair of muscular guys who were playing beach volleyball. Levana and Emerald in contrast had their own towels and umbrella, taking comfort in each others company while dealing with the pain of missing their families.
“He'd used his Hyper-vision to cut himself.” The golden woman gleaming in the tropical sun laughed lightly. “Then the big dufess had thrown open the box so he could bleed onto the 'stones.' She made ditto marks with her recently restored hand.
It'd been weird as hell to watch the molten gold poured onto the stump form itself into a hand as if there was an invisible mold. Just as strange had been when she'd used her power to cool the gold to her normal body temperature in a heartbeat. In no time at all it was as good as new with no signs of an injury at all.
As if finding out just how much Nazi gold and other precious metals that madman had kept for himself had been a surprise. Well, Lapis and her sisters 'construction' materials had to come from somewhere, he mused.
“You are right though.” She smiled at the memory. “When he saw he had bled all over a set of billiard balls, I thought the 'mighty' hero was going to have a stroke!”
“You have to wonder who told him about how to do that.” Grey shook his head. He'd been in hero biz long enough to know that people were people no matter what side of the law they were on. Still it was disappointing to find those with 'feet' of clay.
“Yeah right.” Lapis rolled her emerald eyes. “Like that was hard to figure out. Sazonox and his cronies were about as subtle as a train wreck.”
“On a brighter note.” Grey pointed out. “Mr. Magic Man did get slapped down by the Guild. Even they don't care for necromancy. It makes for really bad public relations.”
“True.” She admitted with a smile, watching her sisters and the beach hunks. “Even better was Hyperion being assigned to clean up the Arkham Containment Zone. Everyone in the loop, knows it's punishment for stepping outside the bounds.”
“He's going to be less than pleased when he finds that rumored treasure hoard.” Grey had to shake his head again. The woman beside him had hinted where the tarnished hero could overhear about all that Nazi loot the Golem Master had recovered.
However, that was only after she and her sisters had cleaned it out. His poor war wagon had been so overloaded Ruby had to use her powers to keep the frame from bottoming out.
“Surely he didn't think we helped re-establish the Zone without a visit or two to recover our personal belongings.” She batted her blue eyelashes.
“I don't think any of the Bureau realized that Opal puts Bladestorm's sneaky thing to shame.” He sighed, remembering how the automata could go completely invisible. The unseeable Wolf Pack member had loaded the van with everything from recovered art works as well as left-over valuable materials from the workshop. Of course he and the others had helped when they could, but Opal did most the work.
And that wasn't half of the wealth Golem Master had built. The reason why the Guild couldn't find him was rather simple in a way. He'd bought the entire township years before under an assumed name after it'd been abandoned. Using the deed, as part of his spell, when the Guild came looking for things out of place, their spells passed harmlessly over him because he, as the owner, was supposed to be there. That was also why the whole place was so well preserved for so long, but no more.
The other-dimensional invasion, bombing, and being used as a battlefield had turned the place into rubble and ruins.
“Emerald is already working on getting back to speed on the legal system so we can set up a foundation.” Lapis Lazuli replied, enjoying just being on the beach. “We'll see that as much of the stolen properties are returned to their rightful owners as is possible. The rest will be used to help the victims, his and the Nazi's.”
She took a taste of her drink. From what he understood she didn't need to drink, but she fully enjoyed the taste as much as anyone who was fully alive. Just like in the “Princess Bride” said, she was only mostly dead. Besides being made of metal and gems, she was alive in every other way that counted.
That included basking in the sun on the Island of Dragons world class beaches. Once upon a time the Caribbean island had a different name, but ever since the Dragon moved in no one called it anything else. No, she didn't conqueror it, but instead she brought it. The islanders who wanted to stay got a huge raise in their standard of living and the others got a very generous relocation fee.
Since then the Isle De Los Dragons was not only home to the Dragon and her family, but had become a resort for all sorts who really didn't fit into the world at large. The main resort rivaled any in the world and had become famous as being neutral ground.
The Dragon herself was the ultimate keeper of that peace and to date, any who dared to defy her will had paid dreadfully for it. Of course being a Dragon, any who wished to make generous donations could expect to be welcomed with all the amenities. For those of lesser means, there was plenty of work to found in the resorts and casinos.
Would-be dragon-slayers learned just how well the Dragon had adapted to the modern world by first encountering her lawyers, accountants, and investigators. Most wisely decided that perhaps this was one hunt that should left alone.
“So how long?” He asked waving his hand at the beautiful beach and oncoming sunset.
“As long as it takes.” She replied. “All of my sisters, myself included, are going to need help adapting. Our hostess, as well as having one of the most exclusive getaways in the world, also has one of the finest libraries. Since its a bygone certainty that the Guild will not be enthusiastic to give us the aid we need, this is the next best place. After all, we spent decades at the shoulder of a brilliant researcher. I'd be surprised if some of that didn't rub off.
He nodded. The Wolf Pack was currently at the beach-house they had leased. Careful and gentle questioning revealed that another six of them 'slept,' still too hurt to wake. The others were in deeper comas. It was going to take time to work out how best to help them and, if that was impossible, how to lay them to rest.
Maybe others would get a power-trip from having nearly a dozen beautiful super-powered slaves, but it only made him a little sick. He was always polite and treated them like people or members in the team when necessary. In truth there was just one woman on his mind.
Grey found himself just looking at her again, finding his contentment in hers. The world had been saved and the good guys had done more than just break even. Perhaps more important than anything else, they had saved each other. As the sun slipped below the horizon, Lapis Lazuli's eyes found his and soon enough their lips meet. Smiling and holding hands, for now, that was enough.
In a universe far far away...
It is said that nothing is truly original. That everything is only a cycle that repeats endlessly. What seems new, is only a variation of what has gone before. Other universes, other versions of ourselves, going and on and on forever, just like one of those infinity mirrors.
I let out a tense breath, staring at myself in the mirror, but the image didn't change. There was this golden seven foot tall woman in a blue Army Service Uniform, wearing a Silver Star on a ribbon around her neck.
That was me. Somehow, instead of being court-martialed and buried in a cell under Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, they had given me a metal for valor. Well, that is along with kicking me out of the military as fast as they could without making it look like that was what they were doing.
Yeah, I'd pissed off a few people.
However, Hammer Hobbs wasn't one of them.
“Hell Soldier,” He'd shook my hand. “You should've gotten the Medal of Honor and enough salad on your chest to make all those glory hounds green with jealousy. Doing the right thing when it needs to be done takes a lot more guts than any of them ever dreamt of having. You ended this damn war and gave us a treaty by default by retrieving the deed to our piece of dirt.” The General stomped his foot on the polished floor.
“You did good, damn good. When you're ready for a job, come see me.” He gave me his card and then walked to congratulate the next honor recipient.
“Yes, you did.” Sheila smiled up at me. “And you didn't upset or offend a single VIP.”
She was also in uniform, since the whole intell unit got an award, a Joint Meritorious Unit Award, no less, as well as individual citations.
“Even I think twice about opening my mouth when the POTUS is putting a ribbon around my neck.” I replied. We'd been told to stick around for more public relations stuff, but honestly we'd both had already been cashiered.
Dean had avoided getting splashed by any crap from my insubordinate behavior. Shelia, my love, was, unfortunately, just as outspoken as me. Her remarks about how the Pantheon boarding parties, with the exception of me, had been all awarded higher honors were blunt and to the point.
Being diplomatic for once, I kept my mouth shut that technically I was receiving no credit at all for my part in that action. The Silver Star was for Asheville and a snowy New Years Eve I'll never ever forget.
If I needed any validation for what I did on Valentines, it was my name on the deed to planet Earth, right under where I passed it over to the UN Secretary General. Given the materials the Sha'leians use, my name will be there as long that document exists, which will be a long, long time. You can bet that, as important as it is, great care is being used to make damn sure nothing happens to it.
I also got a grin out of being a starship captain, if only for few hours, before I passed it on to this Navy commander. No doubt he didn't hold onto it for long either, but it's the thought that counts.
“So what now?” I asked her, raising a brow.
“Why don't we abandon this party.” She smiled, mischievously.
“Now you're talking.” Grinning, I offered my arm in the finest chivalrous fashion. “And then?”
“I was hoping you would have something in mind.” Sheila's eyes positively glowed with a secret.
“You mean something like changing these monkey suits into something more fun?” Yeah, they'd tried to take my Skins, Q-box, and the other gifts Tash, Ralt and Kzon had given me. The bastards even tried to make me sign a nondisclosure agreement that would, in effect, make me guilty of treason if I ever transformed into Halcyon again.
Doc Schneider stepped on that quick. Just because I was leaving the Army didn't mean a damn thing to him. Once a child of Prometheus, always a … you get the rest. He wasn't about to let one of his favorite test subjects be kept from him. That also went without saying that he wanted to see the long term consequences of what being a child of Prometheus truly were.
My Sha'leian tablet problem was much the same. Since it was keyed to me, taking it away meant everyone else would be deprived of the treasures hidden in its drives as well as me. Petty isn't it?
The issue that really polarized things was my Skins. The Special Forces community tends to be a very proud one. Like with the Green Berets' head gear, the garment itself was seen as a symbol, an award of achievement. While I had those who were not fans, they knew damn well I'd walked willingly into the fire. To see those lines crossed because of political pressure, well, let's say it rubbed the fur the wrong way and leave it at that. It was enough to convince the party involved to reconsider their position.
My Q-box 'Button' was disabled which of course didn't mean anything since I'd learned how to change without it. That addressed the stated reason, however, their response was to downgrade the award I'd been put in for as much as they dared without insulting everyone else.
Talos and Bes, two of my biggest not-fans, even they objected to the snub. Athena just shook her head and rolled her eyes.
“Will you 'please' keep her out of trouble?” The Prometheus Team Leader asked, her newly awarded Distinguished Service Cross about her neck. It was the second highest medal for valor possible just below the Medal of Honor, and she'd more than earned it.
“I have a plan.” Sheila replied, as she held up her very small purse which was all that was allowed by uniform regulations.
I kinda did the classic double take when I saw she had two of them.
Athena fought to hold in her laugh when Sheila handed me one of them.
“You 'are' in a woman's uniform.” My lover smirked. “This is an approved accessory.”
Of course I had everything I needed in a very slim wallet that my programmed Skins could hide nearly invisibly. Women's Dress Blues or not, I did 'not' need a purse. I was still complaining about why the change from the old Class A Green uniform, much less about carrying a … purse.
Sighing, I gave in to the inevitable. If I didn't want to cause a scene I had to give in to their fiendish plot. I had a feeling Athena was a contributing part of this conspiracy. Someone after all had to hold onto those purses while Sheila was receiving her award.
I took that purse as it contained the most unstable explosive imaginable.
Here we were in the most rarefied VIP environment imaginable. Heroes from across the country were being honored. The Pantheon teams that boarded the Sha'leian ship to an Army private who'd taken on a command tank and its escorts after his platoon had been shot to pieces. He'd won, at the cost of being seriously wounded.
In the middle of all of those dignitaries, Athena, child of Prometheus and senior Pantheon Team Leader, was turning shades of red trying to hold in her laughter. I know my golden face was burning copper red, but just to make things worse Sheila had this evil smile that meant the worst was yet to come.
“Well, aren't you going to check inside?” She asked, turning my blood cold with apprehension.
Nott and Artemis had wandered over which wasn't helping my nerves at all.
“Can't we just wait on this part till we're alone?” I begged, sensing doom and despair.
The ring of women about me silently declared a very clear, no.
“Is this the same woman who charged into legions of alien robots, risking court-martialing as she single handed ended a war?” Athena drily commented.
Sighing, I opened the purse. Inside were a pair of tubes. One was a tube of lipstick, while the other tube was a paper wrapped, feminine hygiene product. Maybe this stuff was new to me, but I'd been a victim of TV ads just like everyone else. I knew what they were.
I couldn't say the same about the four small pieces of blue metallic cloth. They had strings of the same material attached to the triangular shaped parts. Partially pulling them out to try and get a better look, I really didn't want to reveal whatever Sheila's little joke was to the whole awards reception.
Athena finally lost it and began giggling. The other ladies soon followed at about the same time I figured out two of the smaller triangles were attached together by those strings almost like …
“Mep!” I squeaked, as I stuffed 'it' back out of sight, my face shining even a brighter copper.
“If we're going to the beach, you're going to need … swimwear.” Shelia's eyes danced in merriment.
“Beach?” I tried not to squeak again while sneaking a look around us. I just knew we were making a scene at this solemn occasion. “There's still ice on the ground even at Daytona Beach.”
“Look in your purse.” She giggled, enjoying my discomfort way too much.
Glaring at her, I opened that diabolical handbag, despite knowing better. I just couldn't contain my curiosity. Looking past all those other things, there were two stiff pieces of paper.
The girls were peering around me, since at seven feet, damn few are looking over my shoulders.
I read the plane tickets' destination.
“Rio De Janeiro?” Nott read aloud in disbelief. “You're going to Rio!”
Suddenly, I felt like a mouse surrounded by covey of very hungry cats. These women were combat hardened vets, but each and every one was green with envy and jealousy. A glance told me that no few of the assemblage of guys felt the same. After months of constant ice and snow, the very thought of sunshine and warm sands was as addictive as any narcotic.
With this Impact Winter that our now thankfully departed guests had caused, just about the only places on the planet that had decent weather were the tropics. Even before the War, Rio had been one of the prime beach locations in the world. Now, afterward, it was the dream vacation spot for most the world. Sure there were other tropical getaways that had not been too badly touched by the invasion, but they weren't Rio.
“How?' I asked, knowing that, with it being such a prime destination, trips to Rio was not cheap and getting approved visas was like winning the lottery.
“Let's just say while finding someone to make your locket, I found a business opportunity.” Sheila smiled. “You would be amazed at how lucrative the orichalcum scrap business could be.”
Considering the thousands of wrecked bots and drones from the invasion, and how hard the stuff was to work, if someone had seriously figured out how to recycle the stuff into something more useful than just shrapnel for missiles, then she could indeed be talking about a lot of money.
On the other hand, it wasn't as if I was a pauper either. As one of the holders of a complete copy of the internet, I'd been contacted by any number of companies and corporations. Let's just say that I was not charging for the data, but instead for my time. I also had the thought that, now that we had access to the Sha'leian computer technology via their ship, that meant we also could access all those thousands of robotic brains that'd previously been locked out to us. Just maybe Sheila didn't know just how profitable the salvage business could be!
However first things first, a bikini? An itsty-bitsy, teenie-weenie bikini? Well, at least it didn't have yellow or any other kinds of polka dots. It did about perfectly match Halcyon's blue sapphire hair which meant my love had put some thought into this.
“Sure.” Athena explained to the gathered ladies. “All you have to do is disobey orders and stop a war, but make the terms so damn sweet the civilian authorities can't possibly refute it without being lynched.
“However,” She added, “That doesn't mean they won't lean on the the military side of the house and get you kicked out with as little fanfare as possible. Which also means while the rest of us are still serving, they get to go flying off to Rio. See? Easy!”
I found myself blushing again, but while she did have a point, I was thinking back to Halloween where I first meet Tash. Honestly, I didn't expect Humanity to survive the winter, but not only had we made it to Easter, but some damn how we'd won the War.
We would see another Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. There would be other New Years to celebrate and Valentines to be given to the woman I loved for all that she dearly enjoyed embarrassing me.
As I had more than once, since I'd seen their saucer disappear into the 'Black,' I wished my Sha'leian friends fair 'winds' on their journey. It was almost a certainty they wouldn't have attempted their invasion unless their situation hadn't been grim. Fate laughed at both of our species by ensuring that we couldn't meet as friends, and it was virtually a sure thing that if we meet again there would be conflict. Far too much blood had been shed and humanity had proved time and time again that mankind doesn't forget such things.
However the world and life went on. We had plane tickets to Rio and all I had to do was wear a skimpy swimsuit and spend Easter on the beach. Besides, if past experience was a clue, Sheila would make it more than worth it.
Well, this ceremony had been nothing like the throne-room scene in Star Wars anyways. I held my arm out for Sheila.
“I think I hear a beach calling our names.” Smiling, I tried not to think about the state of undress it would require. “Shall we?”
“Yes.” She replied regally. “Let's!”
If I heard John Williams throne-room theme playing within the privacy of my mind as we left, well, we'd earned it the hard damn way.
I'd heard that the best revenge wasn't served cold. It was living well despite ones' enemies. I decided that perhaps it also honored all those who given so much, including that final sacrifice. Being well, happy, made what they, what we'd, all fought for, worth it.
Arm in arm with the woman I loved, we walked out of that company of heroes. For all of those who'd fallen, and who never got the chance to live in peace they had fought for, we had a lot of living to do.
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