Kunai squatted on the hilltop and watched. He had followed the thing from Perez Park to Faultline to Circe Island and now here to Ithaca. He glanced briefly at the green mist clouding the dark night and then returned his gaze to the scene below.

The demon had cut through the Circle here as it had everywhere before. It had grasped them roughly and pulled the…essence out of them, sucking the very life away and leaving only the dried mummified husks; empty shells devoid of everything.

Kunai sighed beneath his mask. The stealthy warrior wanted nothing more than to rush into battle, to test his mettle against this monster. But he knew the thing was much to powerful for him alone. Probably too powerful for many heroes. He frowned. There were thirteen of his teammates in Perez Park and it had cut through them easily, sent two to the hospital and simply, well…defeated the rest.

Scrap said they were working on a lead. "Let’s hope it pans out," he thought. He could see that the demon was growing stronger and that, perhaps soon, it might very well be unstoppable. He sighed again and shook his head. Below him, a Razorvine, one of the Devouring Earth, living plant life that were found many places in Paragon City, had gotten in the animal’s way and was ripped to shreds. Kunai grimaced as he heard the flora-thing scream.

Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw three figures streak through the sky and swoop down towards the demon. He realized in horror that they were going to attack and that they had no idea what they were dealing with.

"Get that Behemoth!", barked out the leader and his companions fell into formation behind him.

"NO!", Kunai cried. They thought they were dealing with a normal Behemoth Overlord.

One of the heroes shot a blast of energy, striking the thing in the thigh. The other rushed up and struck faster than light, kicks and fists flying into the demon. The last hero joined in, turning the ground to mud, trying to hold the monster while his team beat it down. Then the worst thing that could happen, happened.

The demon noticed them.

It looked down at the Scrapper pummeling it, the blows feeling less than pinpricks. The brute swung it’s huge fist and sent the hero tumbling through the air and finally crashing into the unyielding side of an outcropping of granite. It leapt up and landed directly in front of the Controller, breaking free from the clinging mud easily. The demon grabbed the hero around the waist and simply flung him aside. The man tumbled for at least 40 yards, completely out of control, then came to rest face down in the grass, unconscious.

The Blaster hovered above, pelting the animal with blast after blast to no effect. He watched as his comrades fell before the monster and he hesitated a mere moment. Before he could resume his barrage, the fiend jumped straight up, grasped the hero by the arm and pulled him back to earth. He slammed him into the ground once then held him up studying the dazed man.

"Fool," the demon rasped, "you are as nothing. Soon you and all the vermin here will be less than that." It threw the hero to the ground and stood over him looking to the south. "My power grows. He awaits. The gate beckons." It looked at the super being now cowering before it. "Enjoy the last hours of your life, worm." Then it simply bounded away into the river, slipped beneath the waves and did not resurface.

Kunai raced down the hill to the fallen hero kneeling there, still dazed and mumbling to himself. As Kunai reached the man he looked towards the river, trying to keep track of the animal but it had faded from sight. He knew he didn’t have much time before loosing the trail all together but he had to check on the superhero first.

"We’re all gonna die," the dazed hero muttered. "All of us…nothing we can do."

Kunai kneeled in front of the blaster, "You alright, man?"

The superhero looked at Kunai but didn’t see him. "Got to get away. Hide. Go…somewhere."

The stealthy warrior raised an eyebrow then heard a rustling to his right. He saw the Scrapper that the brute had struck heading towards him. Kunai stood and regarded the man asking, "You ok?"

The fellow continued toward him holding his left arm tight to his body. He nodded once, "Arm’s broke. I’ll live."

Kunai grinned in sympathy and turned to the kneeling man. "Got to run," he was saying, repeating the same things over and over. "Get away…it’s gonna kill us all. Everybody dead…gotta get outta the city." The warrior frowned.

"Listen," he spoke to the Scrapper, "I have to get after that thing before…"

"Go," the man said, "I’ll get them to the hospital."

Kunai took to the air and rushed to the spot where the demon had disappeared under the waves. He searched the area, trying to see the shadow of the thing moving under the water. But there was nothing. The warrior skimmed over the surface in larger circles frantically seeking his quarry.

It was gone.

Kunai rose upwards and hovered several feet above the river. "Dammit!", he sighed heavily and rubbed his chin. He looked up into the night sky and saw that the swirling green mist had started to dissipate. "One more pass," he thought, "and then I’ll have to call the team." He streaked over the water and began his search again.

As soon as they passed through the double doors of the mansion, the girls almost froze in their tracks. If the outside of the place looked huge, the inside looked enormous. The foyer of the Tsoo leaders home was a polished marble stretching out before them in a large circle. On it’s floor, in the center, was a mosaic of crossed swords surrounded by lightning. At the back of the foyer were two circular staircases leading up to the second floor. To their right and left were the entrances to the wings of the estate, a doorway as big as the double doors at the entrance opened to each.

And people were everywhere. The women noticed many of the movers and shakers of Paragon City in the mix: a mayor’s aide, a former candidate for governor, at least two judges and a host of celebrities and sports stars mingled with the Tsoo boss.

But, among the partygoers, were also represented an element that even the most besotted guest gave a wide berth. The heroines recognized several of them from the Family, Malta, Hellions and Skulls, the Carnival and the Crey as well.

"Something else is happening here besides a party," Buttercup said, straining to make herself heard over the noise. She frowned as Tony No Thumbs, a Family boss, walked past deep in conversation with a Malta Operations Technician.

WillowWind agreed. "Yes, but they’ll have to wait," she said scanning the crowd and the room.

"So, where do we start?", Temptations asked. Her eyes moved constantly, darting back and forth over the room, upstairs and down. She would never admit it but she felt very uncomfortable without her sword and her hand clinched absentmindedly.

Buttercup looked to the left and right, trying to get her bearings, her eyes moving past the thick crowd and finally seeing the large doorways to the opposite wings of the mansion. "We split up," she decided. "Will, you and Tempt go search the right wing and Miyaka and I will take the left." The heroines nodded and began to move apart. "And for heaven’s sake," Buttercup called after them, "try not to start anything!"

WillowWind grinned and waved her hand at Buttercup in a "Who? Me?" gesture then she turned with her partner and started edging her way through the crowd.

Miyaka watched the two go and smiled. "Trouble walking," she said about the pair and followed Buttercup towards the left wing.

She grinned and glanced over her shoulder at Miya. "Look who’s talking," she laughed. The light airy laughter of the two women seemed to waft over the teeming room and into a pair of attentive ears.

Bright Blade stood atop the dual staircase in his opulent home. He looked over the throngs of party guests below him and imperceptibly sneered. "Cattle," he thought, "sheep." He held most of these people in contempt; rich and powerful not for what they did but simply for who they were. The Tsoo boss would be surprised if any of them had ever had to struggle and claw simply to survive. He looked at them all and grimaced.

However, tonight was about much more than some silly party. True, there were guests here just for the drink and food, but others were here for a chance at history. While there would never be peace between the disparate groups in Paragon City, the old hates ran too deep for that, there could be an ‘understanding.’ That was what brought the Tsoo together with the Malta and the Family, with the Crey and Carnival, Skulls and Hellions.

Bright Blade grinned crookedly. A chance at history. Then he heard it; the light happiness of a woman’s laugh. This one was different from the cackles of the other females here tonight. This sounded…pure. It was the only description that came to his mind and he searched the ground floor desperately for it‘s origin.

Finally his gaze came to rest on the source of that laugh. The woman was not too tall and not too short. She wore a pair of tight black shorts that hugged her curves and her half shirt displayed her well muscled abdomen. Bright Blade stared for a moment at her hair, blonde and short, just coming to the tops of her shoulders. He was captivated by her laugh and he had a weakness for blondes. He began to push his way through his guests, his eyes riveted on Buttercup.

Buttercup and Miyaka were becoming more and more frustrated as they tried to weave their way through the thick crowd. It seemed that every time they made some progress a wall of drunken partygoers blocked the way. Even though Buttercup was a very calm person by nature the jostle of the congested room sorely tempted her to use her skills and move these people a bit more violently. She felt that time was running out. She felt events were rushing towards something inevitable and horrible. And she swore if she felt one more hand on her rear she was going to send at least one party guest to the "I need a new hand" store. Suddenly she heard a low accented voice directly behind her.

"So, you are to enjoying de party?"

She turned to the voice and saw an oriental man, long black hair tied in a ponytail with a Fu Manchu mustache and beard. He was dressed in a flowing red robe adorned with silken Chinese characters. "Umm, yes," she answered.

The man smiled. "Good, good," he said. "My name is being Hiro but all other people call me Bright Blade" ‘Bright Blade!’, she hissed to herself , "and I am knowing your secret, I think.", he concluded with a smile.

"You do?", Buttercup asked warily. She moved her right leg back a bit, already on the ball of her foot, ready to strike. She looked past the Tsoo boss to Miyaka standing behind him and saw she was ready to back her play.

"Yes," Bright Blade nodded. "You have crashed the party, yes?"

"Crashed the…," Buttercup’s eyes widened in surprise and she nearly breathed a sigh of relief. "Yes…yes…that’s it…you’re on to me," she grinned at the criminal.

"I am thinking so," he nodded with satisfaction. Bright Blade looked her up and down, a slight leer on his face. "So, how are you liking it here?"

"Well, it is very crowded but you have a lovely home," she said with the brightest smile she could muster. This was better than they could have hoped for. Now there was no need to waste time searching. If she could get this Bright Blade alone they could interrogate him, get him to talk and learn the location of the Tablet, if he indeed even had it.

"Ah, thank you. But is not usually so much with people." The Tsoo boss glanced from side to side. "Perhaps you would be liking to, oh, how do you say…‘take de tour’?" Bright Blade grinned a feral grin.

Buttercup flashed white teeth. "That would be wonderful," she said with as much sincerity as she could. The criminal laughed and slid his arm about her waist, steering her in the direction of the left wing of the mansion, her original destination. The heroine almost shuddered in revulsion but kept up her deception. As they walked away she glanced briefly over her shoulder at Miyaka and nodded slightly. Miya nodded once in return then turned and looked frantically towards the right wing trying to get the attention of WillowWind and Temptations before they disappeared from view.

Nearing the double door entrance, Temptations spun around slowly, surveying the room once more before they exited. She raised an eyebrow when she noticed Miyaka and said to Willow, "Look." WillowWind turned as well and her brow furrowed in confusion. Miya gestured somewhat with her head, trying to give her teammates some type of signal. Willow frowned and scanned the crowd. Her eyes widened when she saw Buttercup and the red-robed man disappear into the left wing. She nodded at Miya, who pirouetted about to follow Buttercup, then she and Temptations practically threw the drunken revelers aside as they hurried to catch up to their friends.

Buttercup and Bright Blade walked down the hall making idle conversation. He showed her the several rooms on the first floor of the wing and she noted that most had some type of theme: the shore, a mountain room, one room with five huge fish tanks which the Tsoo leader called his ‘undersea’ room, and other rooms which were plainly furnished.

But, although the thick crowds of people thinned a bit, there were still too many innocent bystanders to get the criminal alone and get the truth out of him. She dared not look behind her but hoped the team were following her.

They went through the French doors at the end of the wing’s hall and they were on the marble patio. The Tsoo boss was going on about the architect and how much this and that cost but Buttercup was barely listening; she was desperately searching for a secluded area so she could get this criminal to talk. But here, as inside the house, people were everywhere. It was less crowded but still, it was not an option.

She thought about getting him into the maze but saw the Ink Men huddled about and the Ancestor Spirits floating in and out of the hedge. She sighed loudly.

Bright Blade glanced at her. "Is there be something wrong?", he asked with concern.

Buttercup’s eyes widened slightly. "No…no, everything’s fine," she replied with a small frown. Her mind was racing. "C’mon, girl, think…think," she said to herself.

Bright Blade nodded. "Perhaps de night air is being too cool?", he said and pulled her a bit closer.

"Oh, this is not happening!", she thought, but suddenly an idea popped into her head and she let the boss hold her tighter. He leaned in to kiss the heroine but at the last moment Buttercup turned her head. "Please," Buttercup whispered, "all these people…I’m not…," she made a show of looking around and saw her three friends near the entrance to the wing, "isn’t there someplace a bit more…private?", she finished with hooded eyes and hoped the look was whorish enough.

Bright Blade smiled broadly and nodded vigorously. "So, you are liking to be alone, yes?" He looked her up and down and Buttercup felt her skin crawl. "I am thinking I have de perfect place." He grinned and, with his arm still in place around her trim waist, lead her to the doors leading to the opposite wing.

They entered the hall and Buttercup saw it was much the same as the left wing. Doors lining the addition were open and, as everywhere else in the Tsoo leaders mansion, was teeming with revelers. But there was a difference. One set of double doors were closed and stationed beside them were two Enforcers.

Bright Blade lead her there and acknowledged the two guards. Beside one of the doors was a numbered keypad with three LED lights at it’s top. The Tsoo boss punched in a code and there was a loud click. He opened the door, escorted her through and closed it behind him then turned on the lights.

The super heroine gasped as she took in the contents of the room. It was large with wood paneled walls and a gleaming wooden floor. Windows that extended from floor to ceiling lined the far wall and the pale moonlight flowed through them. Paintings adorned the walls…famous paintings…paintings that should have been in museums and until recently, were. And the room was filled with display cases of every size and shape. Their wood bases shining with a deep polish and their glass tops so clean they were almost invisible.

"Oh, my!", she exclaimed, "what’s all this?"

Bright Blade appeared very pleased with himself. "Ah, you are liking. This," he said with an expansive wave of his hand, "this is my collection."

She strode further into the room and walked between the cases. Her work at the museum allowed her to recognize several of the artifacts on display but it was her work battling the various mystic villains in Paragon City that enabled her to pick out the more dangerous items in Bright Blade’s ‘collection’.

There was the Eye of Agamato, which could be used to talk to the dead. Over here was the Urn of Apollo that would wipe the sins of any who drank from it. Beside that was the Talisman of Borabi. The Amulet of Karim. The Relic of the Tanis. The Wand of Philter.

Buttercup stood dazed between the display cases. Finally she remembered where she was and looked at the Tsoo leader. "Wow," she said softly, trying to sound impressed. "Where’d you get all this weird stuff?"

Bright Blade raised an eyebrow. "Weird? Dear girl, I am having you to know that these things are containing much power," he nodded. "My men go to where I am wanting things and make the acquire." He smiled broadly. "All these things are very important and I study all." He paced around the room as he spoke and came to a stop before one of the larger cases. The boss frowned as he regarded it’s contents. "This, however, I am not being sure of. I am just getting it and no know of it."

Buttercup came to the case the criminal indicated and when she saw it’s contents one of her eyes widened in surprise. "Arte…?", she whispered then looked furtively at the Tsoo boss, coughing to disguise what she almost blurted out.

It was a sculpted figurine, about two feet tall, of the goddess Artemis. She was wearing an intricately carved breastplate and a leaved battle skirt, the type the Romans used to wear in those old movies. Her feet were shod with sandals and the shin guards she wore bore the same close detail as the breastplate. In the statue’s left hand was a bow and between her fingers were three arrows. And her right hand was held high and pointing off into the distance.

The rendering was so lifelike and compelling that Buttercup involuntarily followed the direction of the Goddess’s pointing finger until her gaze fell upon another display case. Inside it was a large slab of stone, maybe three to five inches thick, about seventeen inches wide and twenty inches tall. It was covered with ancient writings and runes which seemed to glow weakly.

Bright Blade noticed the heroine’s interest and said, "Yes, this I am just getting too," placing his hand in the small of her back and directing her to the slab. "I no know exactly what it am being, but it has a powerful feeling, yes?" He grinned as he looked into the display case.

Buttercup was looking as well but for a different reason. Her skin had become puckered like gooseflesh as she got a better look at the stone. The writing, she realized, was ancient Greek, the same language, she now realized, that Tropic and that Knife woman were speaking. She studied the stone hurriedly and her eyes widened even more.

She had seen this type of writing before and was able to pick out a word here and there. "Beast" here, "old fire" there, and then she translated "through the gate" and her jaw dropped slightly. That was what Azuria had said. "Oh my God," she thought.

It was the Tablet of Traume.
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