Chronicles of a Caped Crusader: Long Shadows: Part Six
Chloe sat in the control room on the floor next to Loraine's chair at the monitors. She pulled her wig off and shook her orange hair loose, from the net that held it. She glanced up at Loraine as she ran her hands through her hair to resettle it.
“Any luck?” she asked.
“Darigan's army mobilized over an hour ago and they are systematically sweeping the city. If Morguss and the Painted Lady are in the Citadel, they will find them. It's just a matter of time now,” Loraine said, keeping her eyes on the monitors while she spoke.
“We messed up royally, Loraine. What are we going to do?” Chloe said, leaning her head back against the wall.
“I'll take full responsibility for this, if blame needs to be assigned. It was my plan. Don't lose hope yet, Chloe. We may be in time to stop this, and even if we aren't, we stopped Nefarious once before,” Loraine said, glancing briefly at her before returning her eyes to the computer.
“Yeah, but only because of Vicki. He won't be mortal and fallible if he comes back under the Three's power. Nefarious had few weaknesses to begin with, but if he comes back under their influence, they'll strip him of what little emotion he had. Even Vicki might not be able to stay his hand this time,” Chloe pointed out. “They managed to strip Darigan of his concern for his people, which was his driving motivation to make a pact with them in the first place, by the end of their control over him.”
Loraine started to respond, but trailed off and closed her mouth after the first syllable. Her focus on the screen became even more intense. Chloe glanced up at her again, and felt her stomach twist with excitement. She grabbed her hair net from the floor and twisted her hair back up into it. She was just reseating her wig on her head when Judge Hog strode in.
“Did we find them?” he asked.
“I think so,” Loraine said, pulling up a map of the Citadel on the screen. “Here. One of the soldiers found there is activity in this tower. He doesn't have visual confirmation, but the tower does not have a current occupant, so whomever is there is there illegally to begin with. He says there is a considerable dark aura radiating from it. He didn't want to attempt to enter the tower, or even cross the courtyard to it for fear of alerting Morguss to us if it is her. I've redirected Orig and several other Defenders to check it out. They should be there momentarily. If he makes confirmation, I'll redirect everyone to the tower to hold the perimeter while Orig and a team storm it. I'll put the coms on speaker now.”
“I'm moving into position now,” Orig's voice came from the computer's speakers.
“Use caution, Orig,” Judge Hog warned, pressing the com. “She's every bit at dangerous now as she was a decade ago.”
“I know, boss. Moving into the courtyard now.”
There was a moment of tense silence, and then the computer started flashing with a distress signal. It had been activated by Orig and everyone in his team almost simultaneously. Loraine stood up pressing the com.
“Orig, Aisheena, anyone, report!” she demanded.
“We're under attack. Specters of some kind. Hundreds of them. Send back up; send back up!”
Loraine typed rapidly, opening all the coms. “All agents, mobilize. To the tower. Be prepared for heavy fighting. Now!”
“We need to get there too,” Judge Hog said. “Tell Captain K to fire up his ship.”
Loraine did so and then put in the commands to have the building lock up. She stood up and took off her suit coat and began to unbutton her dress shirt. Underneath was her black body armor, something Chloe had seen pictures of, but never before had actually seen her wearing. Loraine only entered the battlefield under the gravest of circumstances.
They started from the room, heading to the elevators. Loraine pulled her hair out of its professional bun and into a tight ponytail as they moved. Chloe tried not to stare at her boss, but found it hard. It was so rare to see the real Loraine, the battle hardened warrior who had come down from the space station nearly twenty years ago to rebuild a life previously devoted to evil.
“Focus on the mission, Morphica,” Loraine said, catching her looking at her. “You need to be focused on only one thing, fighting your way through whatever we find up there.”
Chloe nodded, looking out into the hangar bay as it opened in front of them. Captain K's ship was powered up, but the hatch was still open, waiting for them. They hurried in and he shut the door behind them. The hangar filled with water as the doors opened into the ocean, and he rocket out into the expanse before them. In moments, the ship broke the surface of the water and began its course towards the Darigan Citadel.***
The Citadel appeared below and Captain K did a fly by over the area where the tower was located. Below, Chloe could see hundreds of spectral forms filling the courtyard around the tower, interspersed with colors belonging to various Defenders. The battleground seemed to be a chaotic mess, and Chloe could see that no one was remotely near the tower itself. The specters were doing a good job keeping them from the tower.
“Those creatures are decidedly of Lady's make,” Captain K said, surveying the scene. “Boss, there is nowhere to land anywhere near here.”
“Open the hatch; we'll jump. You set the ship down as close as you can to this location and keep it ready. Our agents may be wounded and in need of an evac,” Judge Hog decided.
“I'll get in contact with Illusen and see if she can be ready to receive the injured if they need treatment too desperately to go all the way to Faerieland and the Healing Springs,” Captain K said.
“Also contact Marina at the Healing Springs to let her know you will be coming at some point regardless. There will be too many injuries, even minor ones, for Dr. Flexo to handle on his own. He might even be among the wounded by the time this is over,” Loraine instructed as she rose and followed Judge Hog to the rear of the ship.
Captain K glanced over his should at them as they went. “Good luck.”
The door to the cockpit sealed behind them, and the rear hatch began to open. Loraine wrapped her arms around Judge Hog's shoulders and he jumped, carrying her with him. Chloe waited a moment to give safe distance between them, and then she jumped as well.
Plunging through the air, down into the chaos below was exhilarating, but as the ground closed in, she could see that the situation below was worse than it looked from the air. The specters were reforming moments after being dematerialized by the attacks of the Defenders. Chloe pulled up at the last minute, swooping in to land in an open patch left by Aisheena. She hurriedly pulled out her cudgels and began to swing them through the mass of specters around her.
“I told you this was a bad idea!” Aisheena screamed at Loraine as she punched her way through another specter. It dematerialized and reformed a moment later.
“I never disagreed with you,” Loraine shouted back, spinning a roundhouse kick through a specter who had dived at her and then began firing both blasters at the crush.
“Give me the rundown, Orig,” Judge Hog called, after spotting him nearby.
“We're barely able to contain them, boss,” Orig shouted across to Judge Hog. “All we've been able to do is establish a perimeter to keep them from spilling out into the city. There are simply too many and they rematerialize far too quickly.”
“We need to deal with them at the source,” Loraine shouted. “On this scale, Lady must be in control of them. If we can break her concentration, that should cause them all to disappear.”
Judge Hog looked around, sizing up the situation. “Pull to me.”
Chloe shot through a specter with her blaster, having switched from her cudgels to them when she realized that they stayed dematerialized longer when Loraine used her blasters as compared to everyone else fighting using their fists. She took the opening and ran, moving through the crush of specters to reach Judge Hog's position. Aisheena and Loraine had already reached Judge Hog by the time she made it there. She noticed that Aisheena had blood dripping from a cut on her chin.
“We are going to get killed if we don't get out of here. Even Orig and I are exhausted by this,” Aisheena panted. “I don't like the idea of a retreat, but many of the Defenders aren't going to be able to keep up much longer.”
“Speak for yourself,” Loraine snapped. “I only die on my own terms.”
“This is a distraction,” Judge Hog said. “She knows our main priority is to protect the people of the Citadel. We have to cut through, get to the upper levels, and take out Lady. If Loraine is correct, if we do that, these specters will vanish. I could use your tactical mind about now, Loraine.”
“There is the door,” Loraine said, pointing through the battleground to the tower. “Aisheena, Judge Hog, you two cut a path through. Morphica and I will follow, using the blasters to keep the path behind us clear so we aren't ambushed from behind as we go. Orig, you stay here to lead the rest of the Defenders in maintaining the perimeter. Morphica, turn your blaster level up all the way. With Aisheena and Judge Hog behind us, we won't be in danger of hitting them, and the higher power setting will hopefully make the specters stay dematerialized longer. Just ensure you hit your targets; a wayward blast could do a lot of damage. Your authorization, sir?”
“Sounds like a plan. On my mark, Aisheena.”
She nodded and tensed, waiting. He gave it and the two of them began to carve a path through the crush of specters. Chloe and Loraine followed, moving backwards through the path, firing at every fully formed specter that was following. Some of the ones that the other two had dematerialized reformed as they passed, but those were quickly taken care of. Despite the distance not being great, it took two minutes before they reached the door to the tower. Chloe and Loraine blasted as many of the specters as they could before hurrying through the doorway.
Aisheena slammed it behind them and looked around for something to barricade the door, but Loraine shouted, “Just leave it! It's unlikely to stop them for more than a few seconds. They'll just materialize through it. This way.”
Chloe engaged the safety on her blaster and started running up the stairs, following Loraine and Judge Hog. Behind her, she could hear the howls of the specters as they broke through and began to follow them up. So long as they stopped Lady, it didn't matter if the specters chased them. They would vanish as soon as they took her down, and then they would be able to focus on stopping Morguss from resurrecting Nefarious.
They reached the top of the stairs and Judge Hog pulled back, throwing a punch with so much force that the door ripped off its hinges and went flying into the room. They spilled into the room and Chloe's eyes glazed over the scene, blocking out everything that wasn't her primary target. She located her within seconds. Lady was in the corner of the room in some kind of trance, her eyes rolled back in her head and floating in a black mist similar to the specters she was controlling.
Chloe disengaged her safety and turned the blaster to the maximum stun setting. She fired and Lady's eyes rolled back into place. The mist dissipated, and she dropped to the floor, dazed, but not unconscious like Chloe expected her to be.
“Stop, Morguss!” Chloe heard Loraine shout.
She turned to look. In the middle of the room was some kind of low pedestal, something large enough for someone to stand on, and on it was the robot head-casing that had belonged to Nefarious. The Three stood behind the pedestal and Morguss in front of it. The old sorceress turned to look at the intruders, an ugly leer on her face. Loraine had a blaster trained on Morguss.
“Go ahead, Defenders. You're a little too late now. The spell is cast; Nefarious will return to this world,” Morguss spat gleefully.
Chloe felt her world begin to spin again, her stomach feeling like she had consumed a gallon of ice water. She turned to look at Judge Hog, hoping for some kind of reassurance that he could fix this mess. His face was blank. Aisheena's face clearly displayed the emotions Chloe felt churning through her. Loraine also seemed to be handling the situation with calm.
“Undo it before he comes. You're a sorceress; surely you can manage a counterspell in time,” Loraine said.
“I could, but I won't,” Morguss replied, cackling. “The world will get a second reckoning at the hands of Nefarious, especially now that he will be endowed with the powers of the Three. You all have failed; everything you've done, now and in the past, was nothing.”
Chloe swallowed hard, letting out a little gasp as she pointed at the pedestal. The helmet had vanished, and a strange mist was in its place. A form began to grow out of the mist. In a moment, a figure stood there, an Eyrie with a body encased in robot armor, but with the face of an Electric Eyrie.
Nefarious had returned.
To be continued…