“Come and sit then,” the woman offers. Bel hesitates but does so. “Can I offer you tea?”
“No. Thank you. What are you doing in here?” Bel asks.
“Perhaps the same thing you are,” the woman replies.
“You’re looking for answers too?” Bel asks.
The woman sighs and smiles a tired smile, a smile carved into her face by years of heartache and disappointment. It’s an odd thing to see on a face as young as hers, Bel thinks. She thought the woman had been much older, but as her vision adjusts, Bel sees that she is barely scratching middle age.
“Always,” the woman finally replies. “Always. But what questions are you asking?”
Bel considers her next words carefully.
“This building belonged to the American Hero Society. My grandfather supervised its construction. I… I used to come here when I was little; when there were still heroes here.”
“Your grandfather died,” the woman says. Bel nods. “I am sorry. I remember reading about it.”
“Did you know him?” Bel asks.
“I knew of him. He was a good man. With a good heart. A real hero.”
“What do you hope to find here?”
Bel again considers her words.
“I guess I’m looking for the future.”
“As his sole surviving heir, everything he ever had falls to me. Everything he ever was. His legacy is… well, I don’t know what to do about it.”
“The Society’s membership dwindles every year,” the woman observes. “Soon there won’t be anyone left to uphold the legacy at all.”
“It’s sad. It feels like the world left superheroes behind. The idea of them anyway. The real idea. Not these celebrity supers that fly around from one gala to the next.”
The woman steeples her fingers.
“So?” she asks.
“So what?” Bel asks.
“What are you going to do about it?”
Konrad and the others face their opponents. There is no fear on their faces as they stare down the superheroes.
“Don’t worry about keeping it clean, boys,” Konrad says. “In fact, the messier the better.”
“Jade, do your thing. We’ll handle these jokers,” Right Cross says.
“You will try,” Konrad replies.
They launch themselves at the heroes, moving faster than the eye can follow. Right Cross swings at Konrad, misses, and is thrown back into a row of shelves, shattering them and the boxes they support. Spirit Wolf blows a cloud of spark dust in his attacker’s face, blinding him. He claws wildly as Spirit Wolf unsheathes his blessed knife and begins to cut the creature down. Serpent Lord watches in amusement as his attacker tries in vain to strike him, but he is too slippery to hit. He laughs and taunts his opponent, egging him on, making him slip up, waiting for an opening.
Jade Empress manifests her jade lamp and begins to channel its magnificent power. A spell of banishing writes itself in the air around the undulating tarp.
“What is this? What the fuck is this?” the leader cries as he watches his men go toe to toe with the superheroes.
“Silence, my dear. I need to concentrate,” Jade Empress says.
“No. No! I won’t let you mmmph!” the leader yells before green chains bind his hands and mouth.
“Hush now. I’m trying to work.”
The Murder Inc. boys hold their own against the Society. It’s too close to tell who the victors will be, a revelation that troubles Jade Empress. She shakes the feeling off and concentrates on the spell. If this went wrong… well, she wouldn’t think about that just then.
Right Cross recovers, wiping blood from his mouth.
“That’s the last surprise you’re pulling on me, buster!” he says.
“It’s too soon to be saying that,” Konrad laughs.
Right Cross closes the distance between them in a flash. Konrad dodges the first blow but gets caught by the second. Right Cross winces. It’s like punching concrete. Konrad counters. Right Cross braces himself. His arms come away bloody and stinging with pain. Konrad brings his obsidian claws to his face and samples a drop of Right Cross’s blood.
“Mmm. What sweet ambrosia you have hiding in those veins,” Konrad says almost sensually. It offends Right Cross on every level. “Oh what a feast you’ll be!”
“Feast on this!” Right Cross barks. He kicks the floor of the warehouse at an angle, sending a shower of stone shrapnel at Konrad. He instinctually blocks his face, giving Right Cross the second he needs to strike.
Konrad flies back across the warehouse from the force of Right Cross’s fists, tumbling head over heels before coming to a violent stop at the warehouse wall.
“You brute!” Konrad spits, enraged.
“I don’t have to pull my punches with you, do I?” Right Cross says.
Konrad hisses and lunges at him, but Right Cross catches him mid-lunge and socks him again, sending him to the floor. Right Cross grabs Konrad by the collar, lifts him out of the Konrad shaped crater and punches him again, making the crater even bigger. The warehouse shakes with the force of his onslaught.
“I can really let loose with you. Really see what I can do!” Right Cross smiles.
His fists are screaming. The pain is so great it’s almost numbing. But Konrad is faltering. His face and body are beginning to bruise, the human facade cracking with each hit from the hero.
Right Cross pushes himself. Pushes harder than he’s ever pushed. Then suddenly his body seizes, pushed just a little too far. Konrad grabs the hero by the neck, slams him into the ground and lifts him up, squeezing the life out of him.
“Maybe I won’t kill you after all,” Konrad says. “Maybe I’ll savor your suffering instead; milk you as I would a cow, and me the gentle farmer.”
Right Cross’s vision blurs. The warehouse spins around him. Shaking. Or are those tremors coming from the thing beneath the tarp? It all smushes together in his mind. He doesn’t have a good angle to escape Konrad’s grasp. And what a grip! Vice-like. Unflinching. Right Cross feels the world float away. Then suddenly… garlic?
Konrad screams. It is a bestial, guttural sound. His arm and ribs are ripped apart, wounds oozing a foul odor. He drops Right Cross, who tumbles to the ground, coughing. Right Cross looks up and sees the form of his savior; a young man with an aged face, wearing a full trench coat lightly dusted with snow and a fedora pulled down low on his head. He holds a shotgun in one hand and a sharpened wooden stake in the other. A bandolier of garlic, yes garlic, is slung across his chest.
“Farmer? Try leech, you God damn bloodsucker!” the man roars.
A dozen other men and one woman storm the warehouse with nothing but guns, garlic, stakes in hand and a song of fire in their hearts. The hunt is on.