You've got to:
Prime the pump, you must have faith and believe
You've got to:
Give of yourself 'fore you're worthy to receive
Drink all the water you can hold, wash your face, cool your feet
But leave the bottle full for others, thank you kindly, Desert Pete
Kingston Trio, Desert Pete
August 30th, 2016
Rest Area, I65N, Conecuh County, AL
AJ awoke cold and stiff, his mouth a desert, and hurting in places he didn't even know he had places. With a moan he sat up hitching his back against the tree he had awoken curled around. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes he looked around to find himself in a thick Arbor of trees and overgrowth that seemed quite remote, though the wind had the murmur of a highway nearby. In one direction the trees thinned and opened onto a sizable parking lot with a pair of small buildings in the distance. It was in this direction that he noticed Nick was watching squatting low on his haunches and leaning against a tree. The ear closest to AJ on the top of Nick's head rotated in his direction, but the big young man didn't move his gaze. "Good morning," he rumbled. "You get any sleep?"
"Precious little," AJ replied following his friends lead and keeping his voice down. "Where are we?"
"Some kind of combination bathroom and concession stand," Nick replied and made a gesture at one of the duffels that was open. "I bought some food last night if you're hungry."
Blackstone selected a honey bun from the collection of junk food and opened it as quietly as he could. "It's called a rest area," he informed the other boy around a mouthful. "The US interstate system sometimes goes through some pretty rural areas where there's just not anything for miles. So they put these in so people have a place to go the bathroom and buy a snack. I guess it's not a problem on the island, huh?"
"Not so much," Brennan replied. "Look, AJ, I've been thinking with that Baron Blitzen guy we're probably in way over our heads. Much as I don't like it, we probably ought to call our parents and get some help."
AJ nodded as he chewed and dug through his pockets. After a moment he found his phone and pulled it out. "Shit!" The young man swore. That was sufficient for Nick to turn his head and give his full attention to his friend.
AJ turned the phone so that his friend could see it's cracked and destroyed screen. "My dad's gonna kill me," he grumbled as he returned the broken instrument to his pocket. "Where's yours?"
The two ears flattened sideways. "It was in the pocket of my plaid shirt. You know, the one I was wearing when…"
AJ nodded. "When we jumped off the train and it got destroyed on your landing. Nice!"
Nick shrugged. "Okay so we call collect at a pay phone…"
"Do they have payphones on Paradise Island?" AJ asked in a snarky tone. "Because here in the United States we're in the twenty-first century and payphones went extinct like the dinosaurs! My phone has insurance, so if I can get to an AT&T store they will replace it, but we will have to get a real town for that. Any ideas?"
"None that I like," the big lad admitted with a sigh. He made a vague gesture towards the parking lot, which AJ followed. There he saw a tremendous pickup truck with delusions of being a tractor. The rear wheels were dualies, it had 4 doors, and was pulling a tremendous trailer whose hitch actually connected to the truck in its bed rather than the hitch on the bumper. The trailer itself was a white box affair with numerous windows open to the morning breeze. "According to the map that was on the wall by the vending machine that road out there is Interstate 65. It goes North into Montgomery, and every vehicle on this lot has to go north. We can stow away in that one at least as far as Montgomery, if we're lucky it will go up Interstate 85 to Atlanta.”
AJ suppressed a snicker as he looked at the trailer and then back at his friend. "I suppose it's genetic that you picked that trailer," he said with a smile. Nick frowned at him, the question on his face obvious, which only made it harder for AJ not to laugh. "Dude, it's a horse trailer!”
"Funny," the Animan grumbled as he picked up his bags. "Come on, they're all up in the restroom. Now is our chance." The boys crept over to the trailer without being seen where AJ pointed out the license plate.
"Georgia plate," he observed. "Looks like our luck is changing!" The two scrambled inside where they found 3 horses in individual stalls and an empty fourth for them to settle into. Just as they had gotten settled the trailer lurched into motion. "Atlanta here we come!"
In short order the boredom and safety of the four walls and the gentle motion of the trailer worked its magic on the exhaustion of the two young men and they were fast asleep.
August 30th, 2016
Open Arms Hotel, Bellereve Mississippi
"Baron… Blitzen?" Sycorax demanded coldly, her eyes narrowed behind the silk veil. Mirabel kept tight control of her muscles so that she didn't fidget like a schoolgirl in the principal's office.
"I'm afraid so, mistress," the apprentice informed her teacher. "There was another paranormal involved, known as Fracas, but it is unclear what his involvement was...” Mirabel turned her iPad to where her mistress could see it. On the screen the browser was open onto a new web service that specialized in paranormal occurrences. The current headline was blasting about a train heist and showed a picture of the bruised and bloody face of Fracas. It was amazing how quickly these people seemed to get news stories.
"Evidently his involvement was to be a punching bag for Baron Blitzen," hissed Sycorax. "The question is does Baron Blitzen have the Adder Stones?"
Mirabel licked her lips cautiously. "Is it likely that Baron Blitzen even knows…?"
Sycorax's eyes became cold hard. "Don't be stupid," she snarled obviously displeased. "There is only one reason an operator of Baron Blitzen's status would become involved in something like this and it is because he realizes the Adder Stones are in play and in the possession of this boy. We must move quickly!" She rubbed her chin through the veil obviously trying to think. "Do we know where they left the train?" She demanded. "If only I knew more about this boy…"
"Mistress," purred Yvonne as she held up her own tablet a smirking cat in the cream expression on her face. "I'm pleased to be able to give you that information." Sycorax snatched the tablet from her other apprentice’s grasp and read, her eyes going wide as she did so.
“Alexander… Blackstone?" She demanded and suddenly Sycorax's mercurial temper flared and she wheeled on her hapless student. With a gesture Yvonne was hoisted in the air by an unseen grip; her hands clawing at her throat and her eyes bulging in surprise. "Do not think to toy with me or trifle with my emotions you vain little trollop! If you're lying to me…!"
Yvonne clawed at her throat as she desperately sucked air past her constricted larynx. "It is no lie, Mistress! The boy is the Witch Queen's whelp! I swear it!" As suddenly as she had been hoisted in the air Sycorax released her and she fell in an unceremonious heap on the floor. The sorceress wheeled on Mirabel, her finger a sword point.
"You! Prepare a formal casting circle for a luck ritual! Be certain you bias the third, fifth, and seventh sympathetic points to male energy! Yvonne! Pack! We leave as soon as the ritual is complete."
Mirabel again licked her lips and as cautiously as possible asked, "You intend to give the boy good luck, Mistress?" She got the distinct impression that Sycorax was grinning like a Cheshire cat behind her veil.
"I do," the Devil's Mistress replied. "I know where he's going and he'll need every bit of luck to get there with Baron Blitzen chasing him! Not that it will do him any good as I will be there waiting for him! And I will have my revenge…"
Mirabel busied herself with preparing for the ritual while Yvonne frantically packed their belongings in the hotel room. Sycorax took no notice of her apprentices preparations as her thoughts were turned on a bitter, acrid memory that festered in her mind from long ago and far away. Like picking a scab on an old wound, she relived it in her mind's eye.
January 15th, 1992
Administrative Offices, Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
Wednesday is always the hardest day to come in to work for Amelia Hartford. Especially to a campus drenched in snow with a treacherous drive from Berlin into the mountains. Not for the first time Amelia had considered taking up Mrs. Carson's offer of moving into the faculty housing complex, and not for the last time she rejected the idea in her mind. She liked having that definitive separation between work and home.
Back here, she thought to herself as she climbed out of the warmth of her Mercedes. I never thought I'd be back here; the thought drifted through her mind as she looked around the campus from the parking lot next to Schuster Hall. It had not changed drastically in the four years since she graduated. A wry grin pulled at the corner of her mouth because, come to that, neither had she. Her hair was longer than it had been in her senior class photo, and she was wearing less makeup these days than what had seemed to be required in the 80s, but for all that she knew that she could easily pass for her 18-year-old self.
She trudged across the parking lot lost in thought, at least some part of her still amazed at the passionate speech Lady Astarte had given to the judge at her trial. For the better part of four years she had been absolutely certain that Elizabeth Carson hated her guts with every fiber of her being. Perhaps it was time to reevaluate a number of things she had taken for granted in her high school years.
Amelia nodded to the old biddies that did most of the front-end work in administration. Her own desk as Assistant to the Headmistress was just outside her door. It had been Mr. Hamlin's desk during her detention filled tenure at the school and she was well acquainted with it, but she was still getting used to sitting behind it.
But as soon as her eyes fell on her desk she was immediately glad she had come in; as next to the keyboard was the bound copy of her Masters thesis from her aborted attempt at graduate school. She had no idea how Mrs. Carson had gotten hold of it, let alone read it. Quickly hanging up her coat she found a Post-it note on the cover which in the headmistress' beautiful flowing penmanship spelled out:
Absolutely brilliant! There are some issues with your basic tenets and a few of your conclusions don't follow from your stated positions, however these are minor and easily corrected. I've taken the liberty of including some suggestions and allow me to encourage you to finish what you started here.
If you have any questions don't hesitate to ask me:
Ms. Hartford smiled as she read her boss's praise feeling again that almost irrational sense of pride that seemed to come with complements from Liz Carson. Her good morning was not to last, however, as her sharp ears and sharper mind picked up a commotion on its way to the office. The windows rattled as the door was flung open to the administrative section and the teacher had a pair of girls by their ears, heads bent and twisted faces contorted with pain from her grip as the teacher railed at both of them in great umbrage. Sadly, sights like this were nothing new to Amelia, teachers dragged in recalcitrant students all the time. What was amazing was that these two had managed to set off the very personification of calm serenity: Amanda Chulkris.
"Never in all my life have I been cursed by such pigheaded, insufferably stupid, childish…!"
Ms. Hartford sighed and put down her coffee on her desk. "What seems to be the problem Earth Mother?" The teacher made an exaggerated throwing motion as she released the two girls ears and propelled them towards Ms. Hartford. Meanwhile the plants that covered her body bloomed and changed into different species in response to her mood, Amelia could pick out poison ivy and nightshade among them.
"I want these two expelled!" The enraged teacher declared. Amelia crossed her arms over her chest and took in the two girls that had been propelled towards her.
Around the campus the two were probably known as 'Betty,' and 'Veronica,' as the girls were night and day polar opposites. The blonde had rolled the waist of her skirt down so that it's hemline was well north of her knee which was where it should have been. Not that anyone would be looking at her knees, as her blouse was unbuttoned below her rib cage and were her breasts not already contained in the tight push up bra they would've already burst free. Her blonde curls fell in ringlets to her shoulders framing a heart-shaped face with intensely intelligent blue eyes.
The brunette wore her perfectly straight raven's wing black hair to her shoulder blades and while she wasn't wearing the uniform in as trashy a way as the blonde was, she wasn't prim and proper either. Neither the four-inch stiletto heels nor the thigh-high 'socks' she was wearing were approved for the uniform. Amelia sighed. "What did they do?"
Both girls mouths opened at once, ready to compete to tell their version of events, but a frosty imperious glance from the Assistant to the Headmistress made both aware Amelia wasn't interested in their version of things. Once they were cowed, she turned her attention back to the aggrieved Earth Mother. "Mrs. Chulkris?"
"Half of Dickinson Cottage is in Doyle medical center because of a spell this idiot cast!" Earth Mother replied with a withering glance at the dark-haired 'Veronica'. This proved to be more than she could tolerate quietly as the girl made fists with her hands and glared daggers at the blonde next to her.
"Which wouldn't have happened if she wasn't using a banned redirection shield!"
The blonde returned the glare without backing down an inch and hissed, "I'm not one of your simpering little stooges that will rollover and take whatever you give them!"
"Taking is what you're best at!" The brunette shot back. "At least that's what the bathroom walls say!"
"That's enough out of both of you," the headmistress declared icily. No one had heard her sneak up behind Earth Mother until she declared her presence, completely dominating the room. Cowed, both girls found the carpet utterly fascinating. "Miss Rafferty?" Mrs. Carson asked. "You cast magic that caused injury sufficient for people to be in Doyle medical center?"
"Not… Injury… Exactly…" Rafferty hedged which caused the blonde to roll her eyes.
"Because a shot of penicillin will clear up the clap right?" She sneered at her rival. Mrs. Carson's eyebrow ascended her forehead.
"You gave gonorrhea to half of Dickinson cottage?" The headmistress demanded, but Rafferty's finger of accusation shot out like a rifle blast.
"The only person who should've gotten sick was this slut! It was her reflection spell that caused everybody around her to catch it since she's so busy whoring herself out, she deserved a case of the clap!" Mrs. Carson looked around and saw that the office had come to a standstill staring at the girls in complete shock at the conversation.
"Amelia, would you be so kind as to open my office door please?"
"Certainly, Mrs. Carson," Hartford replied. She got the door open and as regally as a queen Mrs. Carson entered her office hung up her coat and made herself comfortable behind her desk. A perfectly manicured finger directed the two girls to stand before the desk which they did with all the fear of the condemned mounting a gallows. The door shut, and her expression still stony, Mrs. Carson's voice was despite that very pleasant.
"Amanda, Amelia, can I get you anything?"
Earth Mother stalked over to the two girls and set her hands on her impressive hips. "You can get me a DPA van for these two!" She growled obviously still enraged. Ms. Hartford shook her head silently.
"We're getting there," Mrs. Carson assured her. "Miss Rafferty you cast a spell intending to give a venereal disease to Miss Dumont, is this correct?" The silence drug out until finally Mrs. Carson's voice changed timber ever so slightly. "Witchfire, don't make me ask you again."
"Yes ma'am," Rafferty admitted.
The headmistress unlocked a drawer in her desk and removed a small necklace with a rather crudely cut Ruby about the size of a Peach pit dangling from it. Both girls gasped when they recognized the artifact and its significance. Holding the Ruby between her fingers, Mrs. Carson said, "I will take it from your reactions you realize what I'm holding so I strongly encourage you both not to lie in answer to my questions. Now, Miss Rafferty, you admitted your part in this tell me why."
“Danielle seduced a boy that she knew I was interested in."
Dumont scoffed and rolled her eyes. "Pining after is more like," she sneered. "You hadn't made an overture, you weren't going to make an overture, so how does my enjoying him have anything to do with you?"
Witchfire wheeled on the other girl, her rage practically palpable. "You filthy whore! You only fucked him because you knew I wanted to!"
Danielle's smug expression would have caused the cat that got in the cream to blush. "Early birds and worms sweetie," she purred obviously enjoying twisting the knife. "And what a fine worm it was too."
Ahem! Amelia didn't think that Mrs. Carson needed to clear her throat, but it silenced the tirade of the two girls with the force of an atomic blast. After a long moment of staring at them both, Mrs. Carson declared icily, "I require the truth, 'ladies', not the lurid details. And you may rest assured of how loosely I apply that adjective." Mrs. Carson removed her glasses with one hand to rub the bridge of her nose with the other. "First thing in the morning," she muttered. Finally she looked back up and returned her glasses to her face. "Is that all?"
Earth Mother harrumphed in disapproval and turned her gaze from Victoria Rafferty to Danielle Dumont. "Not by half, is it Miss Dumont?"
Mrs. Carson's head swiveled to fix her attention on the blonde. "Miss Dumont? You have something you need to add?" Danielle's arm raised in accusation.
"She's been spreading lies about me!"
"I have not!"
"She told all the girls in Dickinson that got sick I did it to them on purpose!"
Now was Rafferty's turn to sneer, "you redirected my Sickness of Justice spell on purpose! You could've taken the effect but you chose not to and under the Laws of Similarity and Intent that makes you the caster!"
"Do not lawyer with the rules of magic!" Earth Mother warned.
"What did you do?" Mrs. Carson asked tiredly.
"I haven't been able to sleep for three days," whined Dumont. "My clothes have been destroyed! My personal possessions…!"
Mrs. Carson would have none of it. "What… Did… You… Do?" Danielle looked away and muttered something incoherent. "Sycorax, I won't ask again."
"I… I was kind of… Thinking about… Maybe casting a… A Houdini exception ritual…"
The headmistress's hands clenched in the fists which caused the young blonde to flinch and stutter to a halt. Mrs. Carson steadied herself on those fists on her desk as she slowly rose from her chair trembling with tightly checked rage. "You… Were thinking of casting a ritual that would compromise the astral protections of this campus, rendering us vulnerable to attack from any being on one of the 100 realms? And once you had metaphysically pulled up our collective skirt and bent us over a barrel exactly who were you going to invite to fuck us?"
Amelia Hartford flinched as if struck; in all her detention-filled years of pissing off Mrs. Carson she had never, ever, dipped into profanity. And from the look on Earth mother's face it seemed obvious that the vegetarian instructor of the Mystic arts was just as dumbstruck as Hartford was.
The petulance was well and truly out of both girls now, as they stared at their feet and trembled slightly in fear. "Who?" The headmistress demanded again, her voice like a thunderclap, causing both to flinch once more and tears were glistening on both cheeks.
"Honest, Mrs. Carson! I don't know! I was angry and…" The Ruby on the necklace glowed a dull red on the desk and, if possible, Mrs. Carson's face became harder with suppressed anger. She was around the desk in an instant the girl's chin in her hand as she forced her to look up into the headmistress's eyes.
"Do you think me a fool?" She whispered in a voice low and terrible. "That you could stand here and lie to my face and snicker up your sleeve thinking you'd put one over on the old bitch? Did you not listen to Earth Mother's warnings about the dangers of magic users?" Carson's eyes flickered over the Earth Mother. "How far along?"
"She was a third of the way through drawing the circle," Mrs. Chulkris replied holding up a slip of paper in her hand. "This was the sigil."
Mrs. Carson took the slip which caused her eyes to widen for just a moment. She announced a heavy, ponderous word which caused the slip to burst into flames and burn away into nothingness. Her mouth worked for a moment but no sound came out before she finally mastered herself once more and pulled her hand away from the girl's face as if repulsed by the touch of her. Taking a step back she turned in a remarkably composed voice said, "Ms. Hartford, would you be so kind as to escort Miss Rafferty to Kane Hall?"
"I would be happy to Mrs. Carson."
To the girl, the headmistress announced, "In school suspension, two weeks, and don't let your shadow darken the door of my office again." Witchfire opened her mouth to say something but the headmistress's icy eyes convinced her otherwise. "Please have Chief Delarose return with you, Ms. Hartford with a mage hood and his Side Arm."
The tears were flowing freely down Danielle's face now. "Mrs. Carson, I…"
The headmistress returned to her desk as she made a gesture of dismissal. "You are dead to me, Sycorax. Make your own way in the world if you can, your time here is over."
Amelia Hartford gathered up the weeping Victoria Rafferty and led her out.
August 30th, 2016
Woods across from the Chevron Station, McEver Hwy, Flowery Branch Georgia
Nick watched AJ carefully cross the street, laden with bags from the service station. From the number of cars towing boats and Jet Skis and the smell on the wind from the west Nick was certain a fairly large body of water was nearby. He immediately helped the young man with his burdens and noted the two gallons of water he had bought in addition to several pop-top cans of beans and franks, soup and other canned foods. “What's all this for?” he demanded.
AJ grinned and fished out a sizable book from one bag that proved to be an atlas. “Welcome to the hobo life!” he said with a grin as he flipped through the pages. “The clerk told me the closest AT&T store is down in Cumming fifteen miles from here and in the wrong direction, so I went low tech,” he said, holding up the map book. Finally he found the page he wanted and turned the book so both boys could see it. “Look, we're here in Flowery Branch, right there.”
Nick chuckled. “I thought I smelled water nearby. Look at the size of that lake! But what's a hobo life?”
“Hobos,” AJ told his larger friend, “were homeless vagabonds that stowed away aboard freight trains to travel around the country during the Great Depression. Believe me my great grandmother told me more than you would ever want to know about it. Now, look here. About two hundred yards that way is the Norfolk-Southern main north east line that runs roughly parallel to I-85 all the way up to Washington, D. C.!”
“We're going to train hop?”
“Yep,” AJ replied. “Thus all the extra food.”
“Won't we get in trouble or cause a fuss?”
AJ was dismissive. “The only fuss you've caused was with Rancher Williams' daughter Adlynn in her pants when she found us in that horse box. At least she didn't rat us out to her dad, say, what were you two doing in the barn for an hour before she brought us here?”
As near as AJ could tell the fine fur on his large friend hid if he was blushing or not, or even if he could blush, but his ears started flicking to and fro and his demeanor got sheepish. “Just...just being nice to a fan is all...”
Blackstone's eyes boggled. “Are you kidding me?” he demanded. “I get you're a stud and all, but Jesus Christ, Nick, you hadn't even known her an hour yet!”
“What does time have to do with it?” he demanded in an embarrassed tone. “Besides it got us here and out of trouble... And Adlynn was very pretty, for a human...”
“In a big country girl kind of way, of course that's probably a plus for you!” laughed AJ. “Still, buddy, all joking aside, that's kind of...”
Nick shrugged expressively and looked away. “I wanted to, besides she couldn't really make me, and it was mostly just, er, third-base not to put too fine a point on it.” He sighed and looked away. “It's not like I'll ever see her again.”
AJ stood and laid a consoling hand on his friend's shoulder. “Are you ok? I mean, really...?”
The big horse boy forced a smile and shook himself. “Sorry, I've had kind of a crush on Jennifer Dade for a while and I just thought she would be my...you know.”
“Are you dating or anything?” Nick shook his head.
“I was going to ask her out when school started, but then I manifested and, well, here I am.”
AJ bent to pack the food into more manageable bundles in their existing bags. “No harm, no foul then, buddy. Come on, let's catch us a train.” The boys gathered their belongings headed deeper into the woods to find the train tracks.
The boys were in luck as they were near a double track segment where trains had to pause to pass a single line choke point further up the line. A north east bound freight came rumbling to a stop before they had waited a full hour and finding an empty box car was easy. Within moments they were on their way thinking themselves extremely lucky with no idea how right they were.
September 4th, 2016
Alexandria Yard, 2400 Eisenhower Ave, Alexandria, VA
“Nick, Nick wake up...”
The young Animan opened his eyes and yawned. “We finally there?”
“Almost,” AJ told him. “We're coming into the big yard before DC and we gotta bail here.”
The horses features pulled into a frown. “Five different trains and halfway across the entire south east, why this time?”
“9/11,” AJ replied from gathering his bags from the empty box car. “Security is a nightmare on just about anything coming into DC since the Pentagon and the Towers came down. They'll have dogs and a car by car inspection and lots of awkward questions we would rather not have to answer.”
“Don't we want cops since we've got a super villain chasing us?”
“Trust me, buddy, in situations like this, cops are the last thing we want.” The boys collected up their things and stood by the open door. The train had slowed to a walking pace allowing them to just slide off the car and land on the right of way beside it. They found themselves in a wooded area as the train rumbled past them over a bridge that spanned a large creek that was mostly dry. The sun was just a hint of red of the horizon. AJ once more consulted his book.
“What now?” Asked Nick. “No matter where I go I'm going to attract attention.”
“Only if you look like you,” AJ replied with a grin and pointed off to the north. “Less than a mile that way is Inova Alexandria Hospital.”
“Yeah?” Nick shot back. “Well, I can't afford plastic surgery and besides I like my face.”
AJ rolled his eyes at his friends wit. “Let's try something a bit less invasive. Hospitals throw away lots of cool stuff. Like worn out blankets and wheelchairs and respirator masks...” Nick rubbed his stomach.
“I think I'm gonna be sick...”
AJ clapped him on the shoulder. “That's the spirit!” A half-hours walk got them to the hospital's dumpsters where a quick dive rewarded them with a wheelchair that was missing its hand breaks but otherwise intact, a respirator mask still unused in its packaging, but the bag was torn rendering the contents no longer sterile and even a couple of threadbare blankets that had been washed and folded prior to being thrown away. A pilfered O2 bottle from a collection of empties awaiting pickup from the vendor completed the disguise and soon AJ was pushing a wheelchair up the street covered in duffel bags that further disguised the large form covered in blankets and breathing through a mask.
“This is humiliating,” groused Nick from under the blankets.
“You have to be recognized to be humiliated,” AJ shot back. “Besides it's just until we can get to an AT&T store and I can get my phone swapped out.”
“And then however many hours or even days it takes for your dad...”
AJ chuckled. “Once I have a phone, buddy, my dad will be here in minutes. Trust me.”
The sun came up as the boys wandered, asking directions from people who looked harmless, but the ones who would talk to them plead ignorance or were sure that there was an AT&T store nearby but no one could remember exactly where. Finally, at mid-morning AJ started to come to a halt to reconsider their strategy when Nick whispered, “Keep moving, we're being followed.”
Blackstone perked up, but did his best not to give anything away. “How can you see anything under...?”
“Not see,” Nick replied. “Smell. The wind is behind us and there are three men I've been smelling for a half hour or more.”
AJ turned at the next cross street and risked a look over his shoulder, spotting three goons in suits that looked like they'd stepped out of an Al Pacino flick. They couldn't look more like mobsters if they tried. “Trouble,” AJ whispered as he began to pick up his pace, but the three men kept pace easily.
“Run for it,” urged Nick, and AJ called upon Smokey and took off. AJ pushed the wheelchair with everything he had, but even burning dragonfire, he couldn’t escape the fact that running with a wheelchair was pretty damn conspicuous. And the entire point of the wheelchair was to be inconspicuous.
Nick tore the breather mask off of his muzzle and said, “Enough of this crap! Let’s just MOVE!” Nick jumped out of the wheelchair, barely pausing to grab his guitar case and duffle bag. But AJ just kept pushing the wheelchair, only faster now (hey, all of his stuff was strapped to the chair, and it was easier to carry that way!). But before the boys could make it to the cover offered by an otherwise uninviting alley, a ball of plasma shot past them and detonated on the ground. Nick wasn’t harmed by it but the interaction of the plasma burst with his personal electrical field threw him back, and he landed in the wheelchair that AJ was pushing. This threw them all badly off balance and the wheelchair crashed.
The Short Goon popped a power leap to head them off before they could get to the alley. He spun around, crouched and started glowing with ominous power. “Onnnneee… Twooo.. Thr-HEY!” the shrimp yipped as Nick picked him up, completely ignoring the scary, scary power buildup and pantsed him, then flung him into a convenient and open dumpster.
The biggest of the three came charging at AJ with a roar and tried to lay him out with a wide sweeping haymaker. AJ evaded the blow like it was in slow motion. The Big Goon kept swinging, but he just never seemed to be able to connect. Then, on one particularly egregious over-swing, AJ used the man’s own force to clamber up on top of him and down behind him. As the Big Goon reacted to that, AJ reached under his trench coat, got him by the belt of his pants and AJ hefted the Goon up over his head.
The Tall Skinny Goon, who’d stood back during all of this, just gestured with his walking stick, and all the stuff strapped to the walking chair erupted in a sort of slow-motion explosion, as though invisible hands were riffling through the bags. Then the transport tube pulled itself out of AJ’s carryall and started floating toward the Tall Skinny goon.
“Hey!” AJ yipped, but he had his hands full holding the Big Goon over his head.
With the kind of smirk on his face that make you want to punch him one, the Tall Goon opened up the transport tube.
A small golden beak darted out from the tube and bit him on the hand. “Yowch!” The Tall Goon yelped, and dropped the tube. He stared, shocked as Smokey oozed out of the tube. He was so busy reacting to that that he couldn’t react in time when AJ threw the Big Goon at him, sending them both sprawling. The Big Goon wasn’t that rattled by it, but the Tall Goon was totally squished under his weight. On the other hand, the Big Goon barely had time to go ‘oh no, not again’ when he saw the Short Goon, who had clambered out of the dumpster and had a major blast obviously in the works being thrown right at him by Nick.
An ear-ringing explosion rocked the street, blowing out the windows of the store the three were lying in front of as Big Goon was launched thirty feet or more into the air. The Short Goon staggered to his feet, only to be squished by the Big Goon, who landed on him.
AJ ran over and picked up the tube as Smokey clambered up onto his shoulder. “MAN,” he whined, “and I just got him IN there!”
“Get the chair and let’s WHEEL, Dude!” Nick said from the mouth of the alley.
The three goon’s employer watched the scene on a monitor via a linkup with the visors the three wore. “Delilah,” he said to his secretary with a disgusted voice, “make a note that, old school tie or no old school tie, I’m NOT hiring those three idiots ever again. Oh well, if you want something done right, do it yourself… Marcus, tell Outriders One and Four that we’re executing, what was it again? Oh yes, we're executing maneuver Delta- Foxtrot- Richard.”
“I don’t get it,” Nick said as they both beat feet, or hooves, as fast as they could, “Why are all these guys being so damn sneaky? If they’d just come out and DONE this, without all the trying to keep it quiet, they’d have gotten us in the bag by now!”
“Washington Rules,” AJ said. “This is the nation’s capitol! The Feds are very touchy about what happens here, and there’s sort of a, well, not rule, but understanding that you DON’T put on a costume and get all over the top in DC!”
“Because this is where Congress is! Nick, a few years back, there was this big to-do in Fullerton, over in… oh, I forget where it was, it was this little bug fuck burg out in the boonies. The thing is, the politicians still have their panties in a bunch over what went down. And that was Fullerton! Can you imagine what the Congress-critters would do, if anyone pulled anything really nasty where they EAT? It starts off with letting the MCO off the leash, and goes downhill into the really vile very fast.”
“And what do you call what those three guys were pulling?”
“Oh, Crime happens in DC; hell, even Super-Crime happens. But nobody does anything really over the top where the TV cameras can see it, there are no big loud costumes, no funky super villain names, no threats to blow up the city, none of that, ‘cause if you did, the rest of the Super villain community would rat you out and turn you over to the Cops faster than you could whistle Dixie. Look, policing super villainy is expensive, and the various agencies that handle it have budgets, so nobody wants to light a fire under Congress’ ass to increase that funding or pass another Patriot Act! So, anything that goes down has to be very low profile, like those three stooges.”
“How do you know about all this?” Nick demanded as they exited the alleyway.
“I, ah, live in New York! I hear things…”
Nick’s ears went flat with suspicion, but before he could say anything, a sleek glossy black town car screeched to a stop right in front of the two boys. Just as they were wrapping their heads around that, two more almost identical town cars cut them off from behind, forming a triangle around the boys. Nick gave an annoyed harrumph and braced to jump over the car. But just as he began a power jump, a short ‘periscope’ shot up out of the car in front of them. A light played out from the periscope, and a jarring sonic note played. The combination played absolute hob with both their senses of balance. Nick tried to jump, but he had to make double-sure of his footing, and that only gave the opposition a clue as to what he was going to do. A joined pair of matte-black cylinders shot out from one of the other cars. In mid-flight, the cylinders parted, spreading a net that wrapped around Nick. He reflexively ran a powerful electrical jolt through the snare, but that just caused the snared to contract and the cylinders to spin around him, wrapping the snare around Nick even thicker.
Nick fell to the ground with a thud. “Nick!” AJ drew Smokey in his sword-form, and cocked to strike the snare from Nick. But he had to pause to aim- after all, his balance was badly off, Smokey did have a monomolecular edge, and any strike that would slice the snare could badly mess up Nick. But as sensible as that was, it gave the opposition another opening. Yet another weapon popped up out of one of the cars, and a beam caught AJ flat-footed, stunning him. Smokey fell to the ground with a clatter, and reverted to his dragonet form. But yet another weapon popped up, and he was glopped with a wad of capture gel, and AJ was stunned, so he couldn’t provide the dragon fire to free Smokey.
As the gel hardened, the door to one of the town cars opened, and a huge man, at least six feet tall, with the thick powerful figure of a professional wrestler stepped out. He wore a black suit, dominated by a black leather longcoat, a black wide-brim fedora and black trousers. The black was broken by a dull gold cloth tie and an expressive gold full-face mask in the form of a bearded man with a royal mien. He set a black cane with an elaborate gold head into the ground to steady himself and looked around.
AJ blinked in astonishment. “We've been captured by the Burger King?”
Doors in all the cars opened, and men, probably henchmen, stepped out, also wearing black and gold, although their leather jackets were shorter, and their gold masks were simple and featureless. A petite woman followed the leader, wearing a matching outfit of a black leather jacket and skirt, with a gold mask of exquisite feminine beauty. The leader said, in a deep rich baritone voice with a polished British accent, “As I said, ‘If you want anything done right, do it yourself’.”
As AJ struggled to overcome his amazement and get his mind working, the leader picked up the transport tube from where AJ had dropped it. “Who… are you?” AJ groaned. “Why do you want Smokey?”
“Smokey?” the leader repeated, “Who is Smokey?” Following AJ’s gaze to where the dragonet was struggling with the capture gel, He said, “Not that it matters, but I don’t want that, whatever it is. I’m after THIS,” he hefted the transport tube and opened it. Impatiently he shook out the capsule inside.
“What?” AJ bleated, still chasing the woofles out of his head. “What’s THAT? How did it get in the tube?”
The gold masked man chuckled darkly. “D’you really expect me to explain this, like in some bloody comic book?” the leader asked rhetorically. None-too-gently, he rapped the side of AJ’s head with his walking stick. “I don’t really give a rat’s ass about you or your horse-headed buddy. Keep your mouths shut, and just maybe I’ll forget that you two exist.”
Concentrating intently, the leader fussed with the seam of the capsule, and finally managed to pry it open. He peered intently into the capsule. Then, suddenly, he reached over and grabbed AJ by the shirt, lifting him up off the ground as he straightened up. “WHERE’S THE HOLTZMAN TRIGGER?” he yelled into AJ’s face.
“The Holtzman Trigger…” The leader hissed through his mask into AJ’s face. “Look, you little puke, no one trifles with BELPHEGOR! Where’s the Holtzman Trigger, and what are those things?” He shoved the capsule into AJ’s face.
“Hey, I dunno! I never saw that thing before! I didn’t even know I was carrying it!”
“LOOK, YOU LITTLE-”
Belphegor’s rant was cut off when his female sidekick, who was speaking on a cell phone, cut him off. “Patron?” she called with a noticeable French accent, “You have a call. You should take it.”
“Can’t you bloody well see that I’m in the MIDDLE of something here?”
“Patron, you need to take this call,” the secretary said with all seriousness, handing him the phone.
Belphegor let AJ drop, stalked over to the car and snatched the phone from his secretary. “This had better be BLOODY spectacular!” He snarled into the phone, then his body language changed immediately. “What? She-Beast? How did you- oh, ‘that’s what you do’. Ha-hah, very funny, maybe you should put that on your bloody business cards- wait how do you know that? It's on TV?”
AJ looked over at Nick who only shook his head in confusion.
The Golden masked man relaxed. “Oh, only Super Update Online… they’ll post anything, even an Easter Egg hunt, if a cape’s involved.” He walked over with the phone to his ear and stuck the point of his cane into AJ's chest. “No, I don’t bloody care who his mother is, I- she’s who? The what?” he stammered, withdrawing the cane and looking around nervously.
“But this isn’t New Jersey or Pennsylvania! Oh bloody hell… She’s waa? And Syndicate? She’s connected to the Genovese Family? And the Merlino Family? And the Lucchese Family?” he demanded, his tone becoming more shrill as he spoke. “How can anyone be connected to the Merlinos and the Luccheses?” There came a long pause and then he gave an expressive shrug.
“Oh, money laundering; that makes sense…”
Belphegor turned back to his captives and stared at them coldly through the mask. “What do you mean, she claims New Jersey as her turf? She-Beast, even if it’s just the magical rackets, you can’t claim all of New Jersey- and western Pennsylvania? And Westchester County?” By this time, while his face was still hidden from observation through the mask, his body was now slumping and his voice had gone slightly sick. “What do you mean, it gets worse? What? THAT horror is after him? What does she want?”
Belphegor looked at the capsule in his hand. “WHO? What the HELL is HE doing in the country? I thought that the FBI quite sensibly had a ‘Shoot to Kill on Sight’ order out on him!” After another pause he jerked as though struck through the phone and shouted, “CHAMPION? What’s HE doing involved in all of this?”
The henchmen began to look about and finger their weapons nervously. They did seem encouraged when their boss seemed calm again. “Oh, chasing after Blitzen, of bloody course…”
AJ saw Nick trying to discreetly saw at the net that held him against the ground and realized he should be trying to escape too. As he started to see if he could move at all he was drawn once again by the voice of his captor on his phone call. “The Dragon Queen? Are you pulling my leg, She-Beast?”
Belphegor turned and looked down at the boy as if trying to see a family resemblance. “Daisy Hawking? Who the hell is Daisy Hawking? Oh, that MCO bint that’s been all over the news lately… she’s involved in this?” The man towered over AJ and his voice took on a smug tone.
“But nobody knows I’ve got him… oh, you wouldn’t…” he nearly whined, the wind taken out of his sails as fast as it had entered them. “Oh, of course you would… very well… What do you mean, I owe you a Solid? Dammit, Diabolik- okay, okay… Frost… I owe you a solid….” He cut the connection, and AJ could just hear him mutter, “Frost my dimpled ass… Diabolik is as Diabolik does…”
He threw the phone in disgust back to his masked secretary and reached into his jacket pocket to remove a remote control of some kind. “Now, I'm going to release you both and take you to the train station and put you both on a train to Whateley and if your mother asks any questions you're going to tell her the truth that I took nothing from you and put you on your way after a simple misunderstanding, correct?” He closed the box he had pried open and dropped it back into the tube.
“Oh, sure...” AJ started, but Belphegor shook his head.
“Don't take me for a fool, boy, if you're the Witch Queen's whelp then you know The Craft yourself and I want a Sorcerer's Oath to that effect.”
AJ sighed. “I swear by bell, candle and blade that if you uphold your promise and return us to our way with all of our possessions and without harm or hindrance, when asked I will speak the truth of this as a misunderstanding you made right.” He pressed a button on the control and the capture gel evaporated while the net loosened and fell away.
“Get in the car,” Belphegor ordered sullenly.
September 4th, 2016
Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC
“AMTRAK's Metroliner service to New York City via Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Trenton is now boarding on Platform 4. Metroliner service to New York City now boarding on Platform 4. All Aboard, with AMTRAK!”
AJ couldn't help but marvel as Belphegor, complete with his gold mask walked back from the ticket window and no one gave him so much as a second glance as if they saw weirder things every day. When he arrived he leaned heavily on his cane and the mask seemed to scowl down at him. “Where is your equine sidekick?” he demanded.
“He, uh, he said he had to take a leak,” AJ replied, glancing around nervously.
“No matter,” the big man shot back. He handed over a logo bedecked envelope of tickets. “Here, East Coast Zephyr to Concord where you change trains to the Berlin regional to get to Whateley and I've even arranged a private cabin for you. And you have all of your possessions?” AJ nodded. “Then I have fulfilled my portion of our oath.”
“Heard and witnessed,” AJ agreed.
“Then we are ended,” he declared and strode away towards the exit.
“We good?” asked Nick as he walked heavily up and handed the tube back to AJ.
“Easy peasy,” AJ affirmed. “Any trouble on your end?”
Nick grinned. “You just got to know how to talk to him. Like Ragu he's in there. No luck on the AT&T store, they closed at five.”
AJ picked up his bags. “Figures. Come on, let's get to our platform Zephyr should be here in thirty minutes. No more problems you think?”
The big horse boy rolled his eyes. “Jinx us why don't you?”
September 5th, 2016 (Just barely)
East Coast Zephyr departing Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC
“Ladies and Gentlemen we are now departing Union Station. AMTRAK would like to take this time to apologize for our lengthy delay, a fault in the air brake system was indicated...”
Nick crossed his arms over his barrel chest. “You and your big mouth...” AJ shrugged sheepishly. Laying down, the big Animan said over his shoulder “Wake me when we get to New York.”
AJ frowned. “Why New York?”
The big horse boy chuckled darkly. “Because if something else is going to go wrong on this trip, that is where it's going to happen.”
September 5th, 2016
Grand Central Terminal, 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of AMTRAK I'd like to welcome you to New York's Grand Central Terminal. There will be a one hour layover due to routing issues caused by our delayed departure. We apologize for any inconvenience...”
Nick stretched and yawned as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Did Belpha-dork include meal vouchers? You hungry?”
“He did and I'm starving,” AJ replied. “I don't ever want to see beanie weenies again!”
“Let me get my contacts in,” Nick muttered as he stood and ambled into their private toilet. AJ refrained from witty remarks about horses and contact lenses after seeing the struggle the thick fingered lad had with removing and inserting them.
“There but for the grace of God,” he muttered to himself as he stretched and fished a clean shirt from his bags. No sooner had he finished dressing and Nick emerged from the bathroom than there was a ripping sound and with a screech of metal the side of the car was pulled-off and casually tossed aside by a dirty, bearded man. He was a towering, hulk of a man with wild, dreadlocked black hair that flowed over his shoulders his face was a road map of scars and was half obscured by blue mud. He wore a great kilt of a muted plaid that was so filthy it was impossible to make out the tartan and nothing else. In a nearly indecipherable highland brogue he shouted, “Aye be Broch! Yew will nae bother me! Give up the gloine nan Druidh or Aye'll clype yer nods bloody oot yer nut!”
Nick and AJ looked at each other. “Are we being...?” started the stallion.
“Robbed by a cross dresser?” finished AJ with a sigh. “Yes, yes we are.”
“OK,” replied Nick who then launched himself out of the train at the amazed highlander. He was bowled over by the mass of the young stallion who quickly began to beat him about the head and shoulders. “I...” wham! “Have had...” Wham! “Enough of this!” he shouted at the barely conscious thief.
“There he is!”
Nick turned to see a half dozen diehard Devo fans in red and yellow coveralls and red plastic step pyramid helmets. “Give us the Ioun Stones!” demanded the one with gold piping on his pyramid.
The big Animan lad bared his teeth as his ears rotated backwards until they laid down flat against his neck. In the crowd that was standing, shocked, on the platform watching the battle unfold were a few horse lovers who, on seeing that expression, discreetly began to back away and coax the rest of the crowd with them. “You want some stones?” Shouted Nick as he stood up, picking up Broch and holding him over his head as he did so. “I'll give you some fucking stones!”
Brennan roared and launched the hapless highlander feet first at the retro-rogues. The speed and wind of the throw proved to everyone watching that Broch wore his kilt regimental style and the Leader got his stones, right in the face. A collective moan of sympathy rose from the crowd as the thieves were knocked down like tenpins. “Anybody else want a piece of me?” he shouted at the world.
“Are you taking requests, Herr Warhorse?”
With an icy feeling going down his spine, Nick turned a bit to see a familiar figure in white, gold and grey striding towards him. “Champion will not be here to distract us this time,” Baron Blitzen said in his oily, cultured accent. “Come, be reasonable and give me the Eye of Odin and we can all go our separate ways. Otherwise I fear things might become...expensive. Now...” The villain couldn't continue because a hail of tracer rounds hammered into him from the side. Any cry of pain was drowned out by the roar of a machine gun that was very familiar to Nick.
Turning to see where the shots had come from he saw a black coated Animan equine wearing a set of battle dress and a jaunty red beret. In his hands was a massive Aught Five SAW whose barrel was smoking. “Is your dance card not full, mon ami? The Warhorse will call the steps.” Nick blinked in astonishment as the crowd stampeded for the exits at the apparent lull in the combat.
AJ blinked in astonishment from the train. “The international mercenary is your uncle?”
Warhorse strode over quickly, dropping the expended magazine from his weapon and reloading it as he did so. “No time for 'how you beens?' Nephew,” he declared. “You and your friend scamper to the Emerald Tower, I'll buy you the time.”
“The what...?” Started Nick, but AJ was already throwing down their bags.
“I know where it is...!” he declared. He opened a book and pulled out a sheet of paper with a glyph on it. “Here,” he said applying it to the warrior's shoulder. “You'll need this invulnerability charm...”
The rubble from the wreckage that covered the Baron began to stir. Warhorse dropped the bolt on a new round. “Run boys...!” he ordered just as a short length of rail shot out of the debris and likely would have killed him were it not for AJ's charm. Neither boy needed another order. They snatched up their bags and took off running.
September 5th, 2016
Grand Central Terminal, 89 E 42nd St, New York, NY
“God damn it, this sucks!” Snarled AJ as the boys burst into the sunlight on the heels of a panicked crowd. He noticed his friend standing with his hands on his knees as if trying to catch his breath. “Nick, you ok?”
The big lad shook his head in a remarkably horse like gesture. “No,” he managed, his eyes pinched shut in pain and his ears back. “Fuck, dude, I need to eat! Why is this shit always happening when we try to get some chow?”
AJ unslung his bag. “Damn, Nick I'm sorry I forgot you're an energizer. He unzipped it and fished out a honey bun for himself. “Come on dude, get something.” AJ looked around and pointed down 43rd Street at a tall building with green tinted glass a few blocks away over the sound of Nick eating something behind him. “Look there! That's the Emerald Tower, the headquarters of the Empire City Guard. Once we get there we're saaaaafffffeeee...!” AJ's comment turned into a squeal as Nick grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and yanked him backwards.
This got AJ out of the way of an energy blast that put a black, charred hole in the wall of Grand Central just in the nick of time. AJ got a vague impression of a woman in scarlet and saffron silks before his bag was thrust into his hands and he was picked up and suddenly launched skyward.
When AJ recovered his senses he found that Nick was carrying him, and all their bags and had leaped better than one hundred feet in the air and about two full city blocks down Vanderbilt avenue, north and east from their intended destination. “The Emerald Tower is back that way!” he shouted over the wind, but Nick shook his head as he landed on the hood of a taxi, much to the outrage of the driver who was buying a hot dog from a cart vendor, which drove the engine block into the pavement. This wrecked the taxi while creating a six foot crater as he launched skyward again just dodging a bolt of eldritch energy that turned the wrecked cab to slag.
“No good, bro,” Nick replied as he landed on the roof of a lower building, ran to the other edge and leaped again, once more nearly being hit with a blast of magic as he did so. “The psycho in yellow is between us and the tower.”
“There!” AJ shouted, pointing at the wide green expanse of Central Park off to their right. “We'll lose her in the park!” Nick rebounded off the side of a brick and masonry building while blowing out a few windows to alter his course. The boys landed, causing a panic that pretty much instantly dispersed the crowd, with the exception of a hulking brute of a man, easily ten feet tall and covered in muscles wearing a wrestler's leotard and ear protectors.
“Well!” Chuckled Titan. “This will be my easiest search and rob ever!”
Nick turned to flee the way they had come, but the three witches in silk were rapidly catching up and closing off that way of egress. Turning to his right the boys found Baron Blitzen descending from the sky looking much the worse for wear from his bout with Warhorse. A quick pivot left showed a bloodied Broch and the Devo fans running from that direction. “Enough!” thundered Blitzen, who was obviously enraged. “No more of this ridiculousness boys! Give me the Eye of Odin or I will kill you where you stand!”
Nick opened his mouth to reply, but Titan crossed his arms over his massive chest. “Eye of Odin?” he demanded of the UberNAZI. “They don't have the Eye of Odin! I know for a fact they have the Holtzman Trigger!”
“Ioun stones!” Protested the out of breath Devo gang.
“Gloine nan Druidh!”
“The Adder Stones are mine!” Sycorax declared. Nick and AJ stood back to back and circled slowly, trying to guard against whichever villain was going to attack first.
“Hold it!” Shouted AJ as he threw up one hand and tried to address everyone at once. “You can have the dingus! I don't give a shit who takes it, we didn't even know we had it! Just let us go and...”
“Stop stalling boy and give me the Adder Stones!” shouted Sycorax.
“The first of you to move towards the children dies!” Blitzen announced coldly. AJ reached into his bag and pulled out the box his mother had given him.
“Easy guys, they're...” the box felt odd and he opened it. “Gone! Where are...?”
Nick looked over his shoulder as his muscles began to tremble from the contained need to do something. “Oh, sorry bro. You said grab something and I ate...”
“All three of them?!” AJ shouted.
“You fool...!” Started Blitzen as he began to float back ward.
“If the Adder Stones are brought together improperly...!” added Sycorax in a terrified tone of voice...”
“Relax!” shouted Nick as a corona of energy began to glow and crackle over his skin. “I feel great! I'll take you all on I'm so jazzed...!”
“Jazzed?” exclaimed AJ as he backed away in fear. “Dude! You're gonna go thermonuclear!”
Titan's face paled and even the Devo gang and Broch backed up hesitantly. “I ain't paid enough for this...” muttered Titan as he took a step back.
Suddenly a flying car zoomed in over head, accompanied by a man and a woman who were flying. He had red hair to her flowing blonde tresses and they were both in blue with capes on his chest was a stylized SH and hers a matching MG. “Empire City Guard!” Stronghold shouted. “Nobody move!”
“Flee!” shouted Blitzen. “The city is doomed! Flee for your lives!”
“Fuck this let's FIGHT!” shouted Nick as he launched himself at Titan. From here, elemental chaos descended on Central Park. Nick and the heroes ran towards their choice of villain and the villains all tried to flee in terror. Stronghold and Mega-girl swooped around Baron Blitzen and as three of them met, the heroes both landed massive blows to the Nazi at the same instant in a practiced move that sent him tumbling to the ground.
AJ snatched out a spell slip and hurled it at Sycorax while Dr. Thunder and Lioness leaped out of the flying car and began fighting Broch and the Devo Gang respectively. Titan shoved Nick off from where he had bowled him over and was pounding on him, but as he tried to leap away the big lad grabbed his foot and flung him into a low brick wall that was demolished by the impact.
Sycorax reached up and flipped the slip, instead, onto Mirabel whose muscles all locked up and she fell as rigid as a board to the sidewalk. “I won't be killed because of Vicki Rafferty's brat!” she screamed and launched a massive burst of bale-fire at AJ, but Mega-girl had just landed a massive two-fisted haymaker right on the point of Baron Blitzen's chin and he was propelled right into the path of the magic and was ricocheted away because of it, destroying several cars on 59th street.
Lioness landed a spinning kick to the head of the Devo Leader and he staggered into Dr Thunder right as she was throwing Broch whose leg hit the other side of Devo Leaders face knocking him out cold. The hapless highlander was then deflected to land family jewels first on Sycorax's face.
While Nick's enthusiasm was admirable, he didn't have the strength to do any real damage to Titan who kicked him off and made him stagger backwards into AJ, causing both boys to land in a heap. Before the mercenary could leap away, Stronghold swooped in with a pile driver and slammed the bigger man waist deep into the concrete. Pinned, the grinning redheaded southern boy began to deliver a good old fashioned beating to Titans face.
AJ got to his feet and helped up Nick who was still crackling with extra energy. “Nick, those muffins were a magic trick from my mom to recharge when you're completely drained!”
“What do I do?” asked Nick who was becoming worried by the corona that surrounded him. AJ quickly looked around and saw Baron Blitzen slowly rising into the air from the wrecked cars he'd landed in.
Pointing, he shouted, “There! Dump everything you have into him.” Nick went through his kata and much faster than when he had shown his father the ball of energy coalesced between his hands. Baron Blitzen was trying to clear his head as he turned and realized just a fraction of a second too late what a perfect target he was and how the equine lad was charging up something truly massive. Right as he tried to dodge Nick roared and, with a blinding flash, a beam of blue white energy three-feet wide leapt from his hands and slammed into the Baron, launching him into the sky and out of sight to what would doubtlessly be a painful landing somewhere in New Jersey.
As the heroes and children looked around in a daze to take in their victory, at that moment from three different directions, black vans with MCO painted on the side came roaring to stop with a blare of strobe lights and sirens, followed hotly by TV news vans. Out of the lead van jumped a trim blonde in a uniform, gun drawn, who yelled, “Mutant Commission Office! I, special Agent Daisy Hawking place you all under arrest!”
“Excuse me?” demanded Mega-Girl, her hands on her hips.
“Er, just the bad guys...” Daisy hedged under the glare of the TV spots.
September 5th, 2016
Central Park, Center Drive and W59th St, New York, NY
It was hours sorting out the mayhem with the police handcuffing and hauling off the bad guys, the CSI techs cataloging the damage and Dr. Thunder sorting out what the Empire City Guard was liable for, versus the city. Finally Dr Thunder walked over to the clutch of heroes and the two young men, her helmet off and relying on her domino mask to protect her identity.
“Aright,” she declared, inserting herself into the conversation, “which of you is Nick Brennan?” The big lad raised a hand and actually looked sheepish at the heroine who was half his height. “Walk me through this. What exactly happened?”
“Well, Dr. Thunder, as I was just about to tell Stronghold here we were, uh, helped, by someone calling himself Belphegor...”
Mega-girl blinked. “Really? A big, fat guy in a floating chair?”
AJ shook his head. “No, kind of a wrestler build with this creepy gold mask even the Burger King would tell him to lose...” Stronghold chuckled evilly and AJ had a feeling 'Belphegor' just got a new villain identity if Stronghold had anything to say about it.
“Focus, people,” Dr Thunder ordered, but in a nice way. “Continue Mr. Brennan.
“Well, like I said, we ran into him and he was after something called the Holtzman Trigger, which he thought was in AJ's bio-transport tube, but what was in it wasn't what he was after. He got a call from a Frost Diabolik and she convinced him to help us, so he took us to Union Station. While he was buying tickets, I went to the Instant Express Store in the station. I remember on their commercials that they would transport dangerous artifacts to you, so I dropped it into a mailer and the teleporter did the rest.”
“Why didn't you wait?” Dr. Thunder asked pointedly. “We sent the teleporter back with instructions to carry you here.”
Nick shrugged and scratched the back of his neck. “I waited as long as I could, I figured if it was urgent he would have popped back sooner. Otherwise we had to catch the train.”
“It's good that Warhorse was in New York so he could greet you with a familiar face you'd trust,” Lioness observed. Nick nodded solemnly.
“We paid to have him waiting on all trains from DC,” Dr. Thunder added. “What I don't understand is why this thing brought out every power player on the east coast.”
AJ took out his book and drew out a spell slip. “Me too,” he replied. “Let's find out.”
AJ walked over to where Agent Hawking was still preening in front of the cameras. He palmed the spell slip and reached out to shake the agent's hand. Turning on his charm for the cameras, AJ said, “Agent Hawking! Thanks so much for all you've done!”
The truth spell on the slip activated and Daisy replied, “Oh, I didn't do it for you, you little mutant freak! I'm chasing the big promotion I'm going to turn this goat rodeo into!”
“Really?” AJ asked all smiles as the reporters mouths dropped open in shock. “You've been following us all the way from Miami where your partner illegally opened my sealed bio-transport tube?” Daisy grinned.
“What a gift that big oaf turned out to be! While you all were chasing that stupid dragon, I saw a smuggler plant his contraband in the tube. I still don't know what it really was, but that doesn't matter. I slapped a radio tracker on the container and hit every supervillain website I could find painting rumors about whatever... it was like chumming the water for shark hunting and boy did you and your freaky friend come through! With all these major villain busts I'll be a regional commander before the month is out!”
“And you only had to criminally endanger two minors, and put hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent lives at risk to do it!”
“Hey, who's going to care if the world has two less mutant freaks in it?” AJ stepped out of the way as the police captain and a pair of uniforms came over. Daisy blinked and looked at the cops in confusion. “Wait, what was I just saying?”
The Captain was not amused. “It's called spontaneous admission of guilt,” he told her gruffly. “On tape even! Daisy Hawkings, you're under arrest...”
AJ marched back over to Nick with the biggest shit-eating grin his face would contain. “You're bad, AJ! Nick admonished, but Blackstone shrugged.
“What can I say? It runs in the family! Can we make our train?”
“Oh no!” Dr Thunder interrupted. “You two have caused quite enough trouble. “Stronghold, you and Mega-Girl take these two up to Whateley in the War Wagon.”
As the boys gathered up their bags, AJ turned to Nick and remarked. “Well, after all this, school is gonna be tame by comparison!” Stronghold started laughing and was soon joined by Mega-Girl in his mirth at the young man's naivete. “What?”
Nick rolled his eyes. “Jinx us, why don't ya?”