Capin looked over the throng that stood before him. He was tired. He was sore. He was just short of beaten. But then again just short is still anything but beaten. Kardiac’s appearance had given him enough of a breather to put himself back together for his next wind. And there was no way in hell he’d let any of them get inside for the big show.
“Oh come on!” He tossed back another of Ak-Fet Sur’s dogs, taking down two more in the tackle.”How many of you can there possibly be?” Capin had reeled Enry back inside, to conserve its energy, and started taking them on hand-to-hand and man to dog. He couldn’t remember a time he’d felt his partner so weak. Even so he could feel Enry itching for the fight, but considering all the times and tight spots E had pulled him out of, it was the least he could do. He could feel his arms swing slower. The hits not land quite as hard. A normal man. Nothing super. Nothing except his determination and skill.
He planted a foot against his assailant’s chest and heard the ribs crack on impact. “I know there’s like nearly two million people in this city, but there is no way you kids rolled into town and nobody noticed.” He pulled another down and used the momentum to take out the next set. “I mean, did the Animal Control somehow overlook a pack of thousands upon thousands of stray dogs? Do I have to write a letter to my alderman or something?”
Jenna huffed when she finally reached ground level. “You are definitely heavier than you look.” She said, not expecting a response.
“And you’re wearing entirely too much perfume to be doing hero work.” His weight lifted from her and she turned to see him gazing at the sky. “Hrm. Trouble still brewing, I suppose.”
“You could suppose.” Jenna watched him carefully for a moment. Obviously his hearing had returned. Still, steady on his feet would not be words she could use to describe Bluewolf at the moment. “You okay?” Her tone learnt little to the idea that she would believe anything he was going to say.
“I’ve been better.” At least it was the truth. He was sore all over, but one of his advantages was being able to recover quickly. Unfortunately, from the sounds of things all around him, there was little time. Sounds of battle echoed to him from the front of the museum, and Bluewolf started off in that direction. “What’s the status?” He asked over his shoulder.
Despite the wear and tear that he was obviously feeling, Jenna still had to run to catch up. “Apparently Ak-Fet is able to exert some sort of mental control over the local populace, augmenting his standard group of fanatics with city residents. We’ve been able to keep the fatalities to near zero – but it’s only a matter of time,” they rounded the corner of the museum to view a sea of black jackal-headed cultists swarming the steps. Their focal point: a single man in a tuxedo and cowl.” Kardiac is inside, heading to Mid-Night’s position. You can see Capin. Another Strat agent, Mentat is on the scene inside as well.”
Bluewolf took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, “Kaye and Vivian… and Jamie?”
Jenna’s eyes tightened as she pulled her side arms from their holsters, “Tigris and Fox are en route. They, uh, lost Jamie.” Bluewolf turned his head sharply in question. “Not lost lost. Lost as in, one minute she was there in the tunnel between them, and the next she was gone. Kaye reported that there wasn’t a trace of her left in the tunnel.”
Bluewolf’s jaw set as he turned back to look at the fight surrounding Capin. “He needs help.”
He grabbed her around the waist and leapt. Jenna had flown before, but she hadn’t been expecting the sudden action. In the blink of an eye, they dropped into the midst of the scrum. Jenna was firing before they had even touched the ground, clearing a wider circle around the dapper detective. The instant their feet hit the ground, Wolf sprung full force into a group that had moved around the flank and was pressing Capin from behind. The impact rattled his teeth, and rattled much more of the four men he dropped to the ground in the process. Wolf rolled, then spun low, taking another two off their feet. Quick shots to the head kept them down.
“Thanks for coming.” Capin quipped while smashing a stylized helmet against his knee.
“We just figured we’d drop in.” Wolf replied as he moved into a triangle formation with Capin and Silhouette.
“You must be feeling better,” Sil groaned, “I’m thinking I should have left you in the basement and gone after Kardiac.” She stunned another rank of cultists, only to have them replaced nearly as quickly as they fell.
“But we’re so much more fun than he is.” Capin replied. In a flurry of motion, he tagged a series of pressure points on his current assailant. The man fell to the ground twitching.
“You’re seriously going to have to teach me that.”
“What? And give up my advantages?” Capin caught the wrist of one of his attackers. Giving it a twist he could feel the bones near the breaking point. The jackal howled in pain and was kicked down to the ground. Instinctively Bluewolf snapped his opponent back tripping them over the fallen.
“Sil said that the Tigris and Fox lost Jaime.” Wolf batted off his attacker’s blows, flipping him around and holding his arms back. Capin followed through and put the man down. Silhouette stationed herself in the rear of the triangle, taking the advantage of slightly higher ground to help thin the oncoming ranks from afar, while the boys took care of those who made it forward. “She disappeared.”
“I know.” The two men smacked the heads of two of the jackals together and tossed them aside.”She’s here. And she was glowing.”
“Glowing.” Wolf replied flatly.
“On your right.”
Wolf backhanded the man moving in on him. “She was glowing.”
“Glowing.” He planted a jab to the solar plexus. While the man gasped for air, he spun him round and put him down. “She kinda burst through the ceiling too.”
“This is one hell of a day.”
“No rest for the weary.”
“Boys?” Behind them was the sound of metal clinking against the concrete as Jenna reloaded. “The gender balance of the battle here is about to tip.”
Seeing Kaye through the sea of jackal ears brought a noticeable increase in Bluewolf’s focus and energy. Leveling her sidearm again, Jenna picked off the stragglers around Tigress and Fox as they entered the fray from the rear. Their numbers were still great, but they were thinning noticeably. And now they were flanked on both sides. As the battle raged on, the heroes pressed in on them. Ak-Fet Sur’s minions seemed to slow at an increased rate. Their attacks became increasingly sloppy and their reactions less coordinated.
Something caught Wolf’s ear above the din of the fight. It was faint but the hummingwhumpwhumpwhumpwhump was distinct enough. “We’ve got more company.”
“More?” The edge of Capin’s flat hand snuck beneath the mask, catching the dog in the throat.
“Chopper. To the west.”
The dapper detective gave himself some breathing room and looked up. At this distance all he could see was the spot-light working its line of sight across the ground up toward them. “Cavalry?” He asked, looking back to Silhouette who had already pulled her field vision enhancement unit from her coat.
“I’m guessing that’s a no?”
“Far from it. It’s a Channel 7 News chopper.”
Capin repeated her sentiment, “Crap,” and put himself back to work.
“It figures that the press would show up before the cops ever did.” The hum of the rotors grew louder in his ears as the helicopter drew close. He could hear others too. And beyond that, tires speeding along the road. As they were bathed in the white spotlight he added his voice to the refrain. “Crap.”
Suddenly a wave of energy burst forth from the museum. The invisible wave had no destructive force behind it, but as it traveled outward, the fight left all of the assembled cultists. Those who at one moment were pressing the attack stopped and removed their helmets. Expressions of bewilderment and echoes of, “Where am I?” and, “What am I doing here?” rang throughout. The groans of the injured were offset by screams of panic as realization set in for some, others because of their proximity to Tigris, who was pushing her way towards the trio on the steps with Fox close in her wake. The wail of sirens signaled the arrival of emergency services at all levels – police, fire, and EMS.
Andy Pope’s voice broke over the heroes’ comms, “Guys, it would be highly advised that you… flee the area. Post haste.”
“You heard the man. Fall back!” Bluewolf began to push his way through the crowd. Most everyone accommodated the retreating heroes, however their progress was slow. The press and authorities were steadily gaining ground until Tigris let out a bone-rattling roar – the crowd before them scattered in every direction, now hindering the foot pursuit. The air-traffic was another story altogether.
“Any ideas how to shake them?” Capin yelled over the din, thumbing back over his shoulder to the oncoming helicopters.
“Not that doesn’t involve a really big bang.” Wolf hollered back.
“That would be bad guys…” Sil said.
“Well we certainly can’t have that – ” Capin began.
“Afraid they’d take away your hero card?” Tigris growled at him.
“Or your secret decoder ring?” Fox added.
Capin put on an injured face, “Hey, do you know how many box-tops I had to send in for those? And none of the cereal was the good, sugary kind either.”
The pack tightened as they hurried along the Museum. As the panic they left behind was pacified by the authorities, the pursuing mass of press hot on a scoop filled the gap with amazing speed, followed closely by law enforcement. Fox looked back. “Um, they’re not leaving.”
As they skidded around the corner the warm rays of early dusk sunlight broke free of the darkness that had fallen over the city. The welcome return to normalcy ate away at what little cover the darkness had provided them. The five of them hugged the wall as it led them up the hill. Wolf’s nearly fully adjusted hearing caught the clicking of a door just on the other side of the hill. As he and Tigris took the hill’s crest there was the rest of team: Kardiac helping Mid-Night Man stand and Jaimie, being helped by the man he assumed was Mentant.
“What the hell are you doing on your feet?” Kardiac asked Wolf as he watched his fellow crimefighter and Kaye rush down toward them at full tilt with Silhouette close behind. As they drew closer the first of the news choppers came into view with Capin followed by Fox barely in front of it. His eyes grew wider falling directly on the redhead. “What the hell is she doing here?” He turned his attention to Bluewolf as he ran up.
“No time!” Wolf yelled under the roar of the chopper. As Capin and Fox closed in on the group the first wave of vans and people took the hill and the next wave of choppers descended. “We need a blackout.”
“She’s a non-Com.”
“Front page news, guys. Getting closer.”
“A. Non. Com.”
“Megapixel telephoto lenses.” Erny flowed back out through the back of Capin’s jacket and drew himself around as much of them as he could.
Mid-Night Man shook off the not in his stomach and clenched his ring fist tight. “Hang on!”
In an instant a nearly suffocating pitch blackness drew over them and they all suddenly felt sea-sick. Then either ground beneath them or their legs got all rubbery. For a matter of seconds, all of their senses shut down in the nothingness.
And then, just as it had started, it was gone. Instead of out in the open beside the Museum, they were inside the familiar confines of the old fort. Corin collapsed against Kardiac. “I gotcha.”
Capin braced himself against the wall. “That’s one way to travel.”
Kaye shifted back to normal, and clutched at her stomach. “Remind me never to do that again. Ever.”
Jaimie wandered into the corner and began to retch. Corin recovered enough to go comfort her. Kardiac’s eyes danced between Silhouette and Fox, occasionally landing on both Bluewolf and Capin. Eventually, they came to a stop full-on Bluewolf. “What. The. Hell.”
Capin slid down the wall with little ceremony, “Lucy, we got’s some s’plainin’ to do.”
“That was the longest night ever.” He cradled the squat glass of scotch between his palms. Melody stood behind him. Putting her hands on his shoulders she gently sat him down in the chair.
“I believe it,” She said, gently kneading the tight muscles out. “But at least you boys saved the world.”
He took a heavy sip. “Technically, Aaron and I both were fed a belly full of knuckle sandwich, which for the record he was drugged and I was severely outnumbered. And then Corin’s girlfriend laid the big bad out permanently. Not too bad for her first day out. Girl’s got potential.” His eyes closed. He felt his body relax like it hadn’t in days. Melody dragged her fingernails across his scalp. “But yeah. Day saved, and a vacation earned.”
“Oh?” Her tone was playful. Melody climbed over the back of the couch and dropped into his lap. She curled her legs up. “Of course, ‘vacation’ means no working ‘tonight'”
He smiled, pressing his lips against the top of her head. The smell of peach shampoo filled his olfactory. “And who knows, maybe even tomorrow.” His lip pulled up toward his ear in his trademark half a grin.
“Well, then…” She wrapped her arms around his neck.
He could feel the thinnest ray of sun hitting him on the back of the head. It was the first thing he noticed that made him realize he was awake. With his head pressed deep into the pillow he couldn’t see anything, only smell the mix of 380 thread count Egyptian combed cotton and down. He took a lungful of it and smiled as he rolled over.
His hand stretched across the sheets, not expecting but at least hoping to find a body still there beside him. She wasn’t there. “You awake?” Not there, but close by apparently.
“Mmm hmm,” he replied, still not opening his eyes. “And you’re up.” He felt the bed shift ever so slightly under her weight as she sat beside him. “Do I even want to know what time it is?”
“You’ve slept yourself a good way into the future.” She pushed little bits of hair away from his forehead. “And you need a haircut, Mr. Van Winkle.”
“I’ll talk to my barber.” He finally opened his eyes, only to be staring into hers. Locks of her thick black hair hung down over her cheeks, falling towards him. “Good morning.” He smiled, tucking one of those locks away behind her ear.
The room was dim with intermittent bits of light peeking through the drawn blinds. Capin stretched out, feeling every tight muscle and bruise work their way back to consciousness. The familiar worn black t-shirt folded over his chest as he pushed himself up and sat back against the headboard.”Hey,” his eyes fell on the pair of suitcases sitting over by the bedroom door, “Are we going on that vacation?” Her eyes fell from his, a small silent motion that spoke volumes. “We aren’t going on vacation, are we?”
“No, we’re not.” She shook her head, still avoiding contact. “And it’s not vacation either.”
“Crap.” He pulled his knees up and she leaned back on them. “Crap.” It was all his brain was able to translate. It was never said, but they both always knew something like this might happen. Still, knowing is always so much different than the moment it happens. “Pointless to talk you out of it, right?”
She nodded. “Yes. I can’t stay.”
“What was it that did it?”
“It…” She paused a beat, her throat tightening, “it was just some things I had to do. This is the price.” Melody fell back against his chest. Enry and Capin wrapped themselves around her. They could feel the shudders of her body as she held back tears.
“I could go with you.”
“No,” she slid back further, looking him face to face “Your place is here. But thank you for offering.”
“I think I have a say in where my place is,” he whispered in mock bravado.
Melody managed a chuckle. “You say that as if it were true.”
He looked at her. The green in her eyes seemed so much brighter in the tears welling up in them. Capin wiped one away with his thumb as it rolled free down her cheek. “Where?”
She shook her head. “I haven’t decided yet.” True or not, he could tell she wouldn’t tell him, nor would she let him find her. She’d spent so long hiding from demons more clever than him.
“You’ll be back though…”
Under his arms her shoulders shrugged. “I hope so.” It was a lie that they both agreed not to admit to. “The house and the store are yours. Don’t worry about anything; it’s all taken care of.”
“I don’t know anything about selling books.”
“Don’t sell anything.” She smiled. “It’s too dangerous.” As if he would’ve sold any of it, it was all hers. It was all a part of her, and she was leaving it in his care.
The next hour was a complete contradiction to these past months. Where each day seemed to drag on for weeks, little more than sixty minutes was shed in blink of an eye. When he felt her muscles tense, telling her to go, he and Enry tightened their hold on her, pushing it off to the next second. Eventually they had to let themselves break apart. Melody crossed the room and picked up the suitcases.
She stood at the door a moment. “Thanks.”
He put a smile on. “Me too.” She turned to leave. “Mel?” She stopped. “I’m sorry.”