Everything in the little park seemed
to come to a standstill, a pause so total that not even sound escaped
it. Top Ten stood grouped together, backs to one another, hands all
balled into fists, surrounded by the deadly assassins. Tropic stood
a bit apart from them hurriedly assessing the dire situation they
were now in.
The Knives’ leader stood near him. She was tiny, not
even 5’2", he estimated, and was clad in the second skin of their
spandex battle suits, so tight that the outlined muscles of her abdomen
were visible. Her blond hair was short and spiky, and her eyes were
covered by the red night-vision goggles all her sisters wore. To her
left and right were her bodyguards, twins, with long black hair pulled
into ponytails. They both had their swords drawn, their heads constantly
moving, ready to protect their mistress with their lives.
over the rest of the warrior women, he saw all were dressed alike
and all had their swords drawn. But there was no attack. All this
he noticed in mere seconds. Tropic turned to their leader and was
about to speak when he noticed the white glow coming from the center
of his teammates.
"NO!", he shouted but it was too late. The energy
bolt struck one of the Knives and the battle was on.
flashed faster than the eye could follow, steel clanging against the
swords of the two women who attacked her. Sparks flew from the blades,
lighting up the dark night like flashes of lightning. One of the women
blocked Miya’s blade and the other swiped her sword in a wide arc
at the heroines midsection. Miya threw her middle backwards and the
enemies’ katana just caught the armored fabric of her costume, slashing
it but missing skin.
"Bitch!", Miyaka screamed and leapt into the
battle, sword glowing with venomous light.
"WAIT!", Tropic yelled
at the top of his lungs but the battle was fully involved now, the
cacophony of fire and energy blasts, steel against steel and flesh
against flesh drowning him out.
Temptations was dealing with two of
the assassins as well, her great broadsword darting between the double
blades against her. The sword weighed at least 60 pounds but the warrior
woman wielded it with ease. The katanas of her foes, however, were
strong weapons as well, hot steel folded at least 3000 times made
them able to withstand the great power of Temptations sword.
one of the women parried a stroke from the heroine. Her partner leapt
up and planted a boot squarely in Temptations chest, kicking her backwards.
Temptations rolled with the blow, somersaulted back and came up immediately
to her feet. She rushed to them again, blades of grass falling from
her hair as she engaged her enemies.
Tropic looked around him. All
his teammates were in the fight. His eyes flared bright with red fire
and he yelled out again, "STOP!", hoping to end the battle.
and Ryuuhoshi squared off against the women, their hands and feet
streaking in and out, blocking and striking their foes. A Knife warrior
kicked at Ryuu’s leg but he raised it up, blocking the blow with his
shin and, stepping forward with that same leg, reached out and hit
the woman with a straight cross in the bridge of her nose. Blood erupted
from her face and she staggered back. There was no time for chivalry,
truly there was no place for it here, and Ryuu pressed his attack.
As he approached, the woman dropped low and swept her leg around in
an arc trying to sweep his feet from the ground. Ryuuhoshi had to
jump over her leg and, as it went by, she jumped up towards him tackling
him in midair and taking him to the ground.
Buttercup was having her
own problems. The warrior she was facing had tried the same maneuver
her sister had, sweeping the feet of her opponent. Buttercup had been
just a fraction of a second too slow and the leg sweep worked, toppling
the heroine from her feet and onto the damp grassy ground. Her foe
jumped on top of her, mounting her and raining down blow after blow.
Buttercup covered up as best she could and bucked her hips slightly
to dislodge the woman. The Knife lost her balance momentarily but
continued her assault. The heroine then popped her hips up as hard
as possible and the Knife lost enough of her balance that she had
to put her right hand on the ground beside Buttercup’s head to steady
herself. As soon as the hand hit the ground, Buttercup clasped her
hands together, entwining her fingers, and ran them down her foe’s
right bicep into the elbow and pushed down hard, collapsing the arm
altogether. Bucking her hips hard again she rolled the woman over
and ended up on top of her. Their situations reversed, Buttercup began
her own rain of fists on to the dazed warrior.
Valya and Johnny Cognito
stood back to back with General Scrap between them. They turned the
ground to quicksand and black tar, slowing the Knife assassins and
allowing Scrap to target them with his powerful energy blasts. But
the women had their own ways of slowing the heroes and the park was
soon littered with caltrops, five sided spikes of metal, that hampered
the teammates movements.
Elendil and WillowWind took to the air, throwing
bolts of fire and energy at the women. The Knives of Artemis soldiers
leapt and tumbled, avoiding the blasts and coming closer to the heroes.
Suddenly, one of the women launched herself upwards and was just able
to grab hold of WillowWind’s ankle. She tugged down hard and both
hero and villain tumbled to the ground.
"I SAID, STOP!", Tropic shouted
at the top of his lungs. His eyes blazed as he raised his flame filled
hands high above his head. Dropping them down he aimed a powerful
blast directly into the ground in the middle of the combatants. Concentric
rings of repulsing fire hurled back friend and foe alike.
themselves off their feet. As his teammates scrambled up Ryuuhoshi
squinted at the blaster. "Tropic! What are you…?", but the question
went unfinished when Topic raised his hand to gently silence the dark
Top Ten gathered themselves together, once more surrounded
by the Knives of Artemis. Cognito looked at the women around him,
the tips of the katanas pointed almost at their throats. "Well, this
looks familiar," he sighed.
Tropic paid no attention as he walked
purposefully to the Knife leader. Her twin bodyguards rushed to stand
in front of her, one blade pointed at his heart, the other at his
throat. He stood before the small, blonde haired woman and, looking
down into her red goggled eyes, curled his right hand into a fist
and crossed it over his chest, saluting as the ancient soldiers did.
He stood straight and tall then said, "We greet you with strength
and honor and in the name of your Goddess."
The woman regarded Tropic
for a moment then gestured with her hand. The two bodyguards moved
to their original positions behind her. She surveyed the scene in
front of her and motioned with her hand again. The Knives of Artemis
surrounding the heroes split in two and quickly moved in half circles
to stand in formation behind their mistress. They stood in two groups
of nine and, as one, slid their deadly blades into their sheathes,
keeping their hands on the hilts of the swords. The twins did the
same except their swords remained half drawn, ready to strike.
leader removed her goggles and stared up at Tropic with pale blue
eyes. She placed her right fist over her left breast and said at last,
with a crooked grin, "We accept your greeting and are pleased the
old ways are remembered."
Tropic extended his hand out to her and
they grasped each other by the elbows in the fashion of warriors of
old and he said, *"Greetings, Hecate, it’s been a long time"*
Hecate smiled up at the red-skinned hero, *"A long time indeed. What’s
it been…50...60 years?"*
Tropic thought for a moment then returned
her grin. *"More like 90."* He paused and nodded, *"Sarajevo."*
yes…the Balkans,"* she said raising an eyebrow. *"Who was that…a prince?…no,
I remember now. It was an Arch-Duke. Set things off rather nicely
The heroes listened intently as Tropic and the woman spoke
in a language they could not understand. Valya shook her head. "What
"I think it’s…old," Buttercup shrugged.
"Gee, thanks for
clearing that up," Valya replied and returned her attention to the
*"It was a fine piece of assassination, although
I don’t think your employer counted on a World War,"* Tropic said
with a smile.
*"No, he didn’t,"* Hecate said crookedly. *"Said the
war had frozen his finances. Tried to renege on our deal. Then he
tried to renegotiate. Then he paid in full."* The Knife leader shook
her head and sighed. *"Then he died under the most mysterious circumstances."*
Tropic laughed out loud. *"Served him right."*
Hecate smiled and said,
her eyes hooded, *"If I remember correctly, we spent a month in…Morocco
after that. And as I recall, the nights were rather…hot."* At the
word hot, the tip of her pink tongue licked the left corner of her
upper lip. She made no effort to disguise the lust on her face.
WillowWind spoke up. "Tropic, you know this…woman?"
to the heroine and an evil grin appeared on her pursed lips. The Knife
said, loud enough for all to hear, in her accented, perfect English,
"How sweet! The cow is jealous!" She looked at Tropic. "Does she belong
to you? Is she for sale?"
"COW?!?", Willow exploded. "Oh, you have
got to go!" Her hands glowed white as the energy built up within her.
She threw her hand forward to fire a bolt at the smirking woman but
at the last possible instant, Valya grabbed her friend’s arm and the
blast of pure energy shot up and out of the park, arcing over the
train station and glowing like a searchlight.
Tropic lowered his head
and sighed. He rubbed his forehead then pinched the bridge of his
nose. Hecate had always been a manipulator and one hundred years hadn’t
changed her. She stood there with a serene expression on her face
watching Valya and Cadecus hold Willow back. He stole a glance at
his friend and saw the anger etched on her face as she struggled against
the grip of her teammates. Tropic shook his head and sighed again.
"Hecate!", he called out forcefully enough that WillowWind calmed
a bit but Valya still had a tight hold of her arm. "She is no cow,"
Tropic said firmly, "she belongs to herself and she is not ‘for sale’."
He stared intently at the assassin’s leader and nodded once, almost
Hecate grinned her sly grin. "Pity. She has…some sprit."
The woman looked Willow up and down then turned to Tropic. "I suppose
we could have trained her to be less…awkward." Behind her she heard
the heroine hiss in anger and her smile grew a bit broader.
frowned at the warrior. "You said you know something of the tablet.
Tell me," he said, trying to get everyone back on track. He had had
a feeling since this thing appeared that events were rushing to a
conclusion that no one, not the city, not the police, and not Top
Ten were prepared for. If Hecate had any information, they needed
Hecate smiled crookedly again realizing her fun was over.
She moved until she was directly in front of Tropic, her head only
coming to below his shoulders. She looked up at her old friend, "The
Tablet of Traume is in the possession of a Tsoo boss named Bright
Blade." She had practically spit out the name ‘Tsoo’. Even though
the Knives of Artemis and the Tsoo were in almost the same business
- the mercenary business of assassination, murder, protection, terror,
the Knives looked at the Tsoo as thugs and common criminals. The Knives,
on the other hand, were artists, in their own minds at least.
red-skinned hero regarded the small woman. "And you know this…?"
Goddess has told us," she said matter-of-factly.
Tropic nodded. "Why
does he have it?"
"He fancies himself as learned, a collector of artifacts,"
she sneered. "He had his men break into the Guild’s warehouse and
take several objects," she shook her head, "the Tablet was not on
his list. They merely took it because it looked…old."
The hero tugged
on his goatee for a moment, deep in thought, then finally whispered,
"He doesn’t know what he has."
"I’ve heard of this ‘Bright Blade’,"
Cadecus frowned. "He’s a master in the ‘Lightning School’, channels
electricity through his sword." He looked at his friends with a raised
eyebrow, "Very dangerous. Let me call a contact of mine, see if he
can tell us anything." Cad pulled out his communicator and was already
dialing as he turned away.
Tropic looked down at Hecate and smiled
at his old friend, "Thank you for the information. It’s very helpful."
The assassin shrugged. "The Goddess decreed it," she said simply as
if she had no control over the matter. She bowed slightly. "Take care,
Dread One," and gestured with her hand again. The Knives of Artemis
began to move away in formation.
Top Ten watched as the women moved
away. As Hecate passed her, Willow whispered loudly, "I’ll be seeingyou again." The warrior woman looked sidelong at the heroine and grinned,
not with fear but with…invitation.
When the Knives were about 30 yards
distant Hecate stopped and turned. She looked at Tropic and, of a
sudden, headed back to him, leaving her cadre behind. When she finally
stood in front of him she paused and then, much to the hero’s surprise,
leaned into him and hugged him tightly. For the only time that evening,
Top Ten and the Knives of Artemis were one; confused.
there awkwardly and at last put his arms lightly around her, gently
returning the embrace. When she pulled away from him he stared at
her with a bemused expression. "Nice, but what was that for?"
gave him a sad smile as she held him at arms length. "If you should
survive this, Dread One, come visit me. There are so few of us left
from the old days and I…"
Tropic nodded, "I will, I promise."
bowed her head once and rejoined her warriors. They moved out of the
small park and as one, vanished.
The teammates all breathed a sigh
of relief and Scrap came to stand beside Tropic. "So, you trust her?",
the energy wielder asked.
"Trust her?", Tropic said shaking his head,
"No. Believe her? Yes."
"Because she’s scared. And so are the
Gods." Tropic noticed Scrap’s expression. "Oh, the Gods exist. They’re
out there but not many believe in them anymore so they’ve turned their
attention to other matters." He tugged worriedly on his goatee. "But
this thing…this demon…something about it has them scared. So they
told the Knives about the tablet and the Knives told us."
stepped forward with a questioning look in her eyes. "But why even
tell us? Couldn’t they get the tablet and take care of this themselves?"
"We’re cannon fodder," Johnny said flatly. He met the gaze of his
friends. "Think about it. We’re taking the risk. We’re fighting the
thing. We might get killed. They don’t get their hands dirty."
nodded, "And, if we fail, they can still step in and finish it. And
if we succeed, their goal is accomplished as well."
Cadecus said. His teammates faced him. "Contact says he’s got a place
in Founders Falls. Out near Hutchinson Park overlooking Red River."
The healer nodded his head. "Says he’s there now."
"Huh," Willow frowned,
"I live in Founders Falls."
Johnny Coginito shook his head, "Hmm,
I guess they’re letting anybody in now." WillowWind and Valya looked
at him with furrowed brows and he shook his finger at them saying,
"That sounded so much better in my head."
General Scrap looked at
the clock visible in the station overhead. 11:30pm. "All right. Let’s
get over to Founders Falls and see what this ‘Bright Blade’ knows,"
and Top Ten boarded the train.
* translated from the Ancient Greek