"I hope you like Vanilla." Triton told the Wanderer as he handed him what looked to be a generic Sundae from some generic fast food chain. He then listened to the traveling hero's stories of monsters and mechanics trying to come to grips with the mechanical issues involved.
"Where do these tracks lead?" Triton asked.
The Wanderer gladly accepted the sundae and pulled out some ketchup packets from his coat. A curious look from Triton garnered a "You should try it," from the alien. After squeezing the tomato condiment onto the ice cream, the Wanderer answered "That is where you come in, the tracks once they leave the sediment are no more. I can tell you that sensors at the Eagles Nest have detected a large object approaching the submarine doors and then leaving. If they are related I don't know." The Wanderer then presented a thumbnail sketch of his earlier ideas regarding the riverboat casino and various shipping warehouses in the area, but none of those leads panned out.
"Shall we take a look and see if there is any activity?" he asked licking the bowl.
"Yes, I would very much like to see what may be causing any disturbance," Triton answered the Wanderer. He peered out at the water as if trying to intuitively sense any problems out in the sea but the following look of frustration that crossed his face showed that any such attempt was completely without merit.
"Let us start our search," Triton stated while motioning the Wanderer forward.
The Wanderer dug around in his overcoat and produced an underwater flashlight, he turned on the beam and stepped off the pier into the dark waters.
Beneath the surface, he gestured for Triton to follow him as he led him to the spot where he had first seen the mechanical trenches dug into the shelf.
Triton dove gracefully off the pier in an effort to follow the Wanderer. and sputtered to the surface a few moments later.
Triton lost sight of the Wanderer as he tried to cough the water up out of his lungs. When he finally caught enough breath to speak again he let out a string of curses that would be recognized by sailors in 6 different countries. His rampage would have continued but he realized that it was impossilbe to take anyone doing the doggy paddle seriously and started laughing to himself at his family's fine "joke."
The Wanderer stood around on the silty bottom for a few minutes sweeping the shaft of light across the waters hoping to locate Triton. When he saw no sign of the hero he kicked his way back to the surface. Breaking through the water he saw the man clinging to the pier.
"I think I will have to get myself a ship." The land lubber said to the Wanderer as that worthy rose to the surface. "I know where one is and should be able to use it."
The Wanderer looked curiously at this revelation and popped out of the water materializing on the dock offering a hand to Triton to pull him out of the water.
"A boat it is then," he said, "I should have known that it wasn't proper for a royal guardian of the seas to swim like a common salmon." The Wanderer asked Triton to wait there as he disappeared again and a short time later pulled alongside the pier in a black speedboat. "All aboard!"
"I may swim like a fish. It's this breathing thing I seem to have a problem with." Triton answered as he accepted the hand helping him into the boat. "I do know how to drive one of these though. Nice boat."
Triton thought to himself how well this boat would work in his other profession. "Lead on"
The Wanderer quipped, "This old thing? My yacht is in the shop."
Firing up the engine, the Wanderer sent the boat careening off into the night over to the general area where he had seen the trenches. Along the way he continued to fill in Triton with all the details he could remember about the reported "sea monster" and these tracks.
Soon they were bobbing above the deep channel in the middle of the river. Beneath them was the place where the Wanderer had once found the strange tracks.
The river was fairly quiet at night. Downriver, they could see one of the gambling boats returning from its trip to international waters. A houseboat was slowly chugging upriver. A few small boats were moving back and forth near the marina. Three large cargo ships were visible by their lights in the distance, down by the large docks.
"So what are we looking for?" Triton asked the Wanderer
"A sea monster," he replied matter-of-factly. "Actually, there has been a rash of things milling about under the water around Port Alexander and I'm not sure they are unrelated." The Wanderer assumed Triton was familiar with the Guardians and spoke freely about the vessel which the security tapes reported approaching the Nest and then leaving. He took great care to speak in generalities about the Nest's location, but tried to deliver enough specifics to see if Triton could make an assessment.
A vague presentiment of some lurking presence washed over the Wanderer, and a moment later both men saw on the prow of the boat a figure, manlike in shape, only much smaller and with a sligh grayish cast to his skin. "Wanderer," said the figure, "I am under attack at my Condominium Sanctorum. Outnumbered. The odds are not good."
Immediately the Wanderer fired the engine up, tossing Triton off balance into the side of the boat. Apologetically, he explained over the deafening roar. "A friend is in dire need of assistance, I hope you don't have any plans for the rest of this evening."
Streaking across the choppy riverside the Wanderer guided his speedboat to the nearest port. "Triton, you said you could handle one of these things? take the wheel and head for that pier," he pointed over near a grouping of lights which were near their destination.
He didn't wait for an answer turning loose of the controls and whipping out his communicator, fingering in code for the White Knight and Fervor on the Guardians frequency. Triton grabbed for the wheel before the boat careened off into oblivion.
Triton took over the wheel with some knowlege of running fast ships though this time there was not anyone chasing him. The winds began to pick up behind him as he tried to push the boat's capabilities.
"Where am I heading?" The hero asked no one in particular as he scans the pier ahead for some sign of a destination.
The Wanderer made a frustrated sound as neither the White Knight nor Fervor responded. As Triton pulled close to the pier, the Wanderer popped onto shore to receive tossed rope and tie the boat up. A moment later, both men were on the pier.
"Looks like we may be it," said the Wanderer. After securing the boat, the Wanderer briefed Triton on their destination and tried to fill him in on the Mystic and his previous dealings with the mysterious man. (see Issue #6 and Issue #7 Jewel).
As the two men headed to the impending danger zone, the Wanderer placed one last call to Defender.
Sitting behind his desk, the man behind the Defender mask stared at the walls. For the first time since his wife had stolen his heart, he was too distracted to work. He had expected to enjoy himself at SuperCon. He had, after all, spent many fun weekends in hotels full of fans. This time had been different. Before, it had always been fans of comics or Sci-Fi or horror. He had been a witness, a sometime participant and an outsider. He had fun, but something was always missing. This time, he was the fan. This time, he was the center of attention. This time, it was all different and all right and all wonderful. The company's latest projects didn't seem important. Putting on the Defender mask did.
Of course, his head of security had do idea why he was so distracted. After all, the anomolies in the logs would have normally been a priority.
"Boss? Are you feeling well?"
"Yeah, Mike. I'm fine. Why?"
"Because your pager has been vibrating for the last thirty seconds."
Coming back to reality - boring, mundane reality - he pulled the pager from his belt. "6161," it read. This was not mundania intruding. This was his Defender communicator telling him he had a call.
"Sorry, Mike.This is important. I'd better take this one in private." He shooed the man from the room as he pulled the communicator from his attache.
"Defender here," he said, his voice involuntarily dropping in tone and volume.
*Sniff* *sniff* came through the receiver. "Can you smell that?" said a familiar voice he recognized as the Wanderer. "There's trouble, right here and right now. No time to explain, but could use your help." There literally was no time as the Wanderer didn't wait for a reply and just gave an address before breaking the connection.
He deposited the phone into one of the many pockets in his overcoat and turned to Triton. "Let's hurry up and slow down. Reinforcements are on their way, I hope." He started off in a brisk run to his friend's house approaching cautiously as he neared it, looking for any signs of danger.
Meanwhile, Defender was heading for the door as he remembered to call his partner. It would wait for a minute or two. Walking through the outer office, he could hear Mike trailing behind.
"Heading for the lab, boss?"
"Not right now. I've got to get home."
"What about these readings from the back gate?"
"I'll look at them tomorrow, Mike. Just increase the patrols back there."
A few minutes later, Defender was driving toward the address the Wanderer had given him. He had paused only long enough to put on the throat mikes and ear pieces. A call was going through to home.
"Computer. Memo. Get Ka-Sador a cell phone." Defender took a sharp turn and pulled into a parking garage. "Hi honey. Looks like trouble. Is Ka-Sador hanging around?"
"No dear, he said something about hunting Krai in the mountains. No, I don't know what that means exactly. The Krai were the aliens that had him enslaved, but that's all I know," said Mara.
Defender sighed philosophically and headed out toward his meeting.
* * * *The Wanderer and Triton took up a position down the street from their target, a tiny three story stone building, probably dating to the early 1900s. On one side, and sharing a wall, was an apartment building which towered above it. Behind was an alley. On the other side was a building of bout the same size, which had a bookstore on the bottom floor and apartments above. There was a detached garage accessible from the alley.
A small yard or lawn, about eight feet deep, was in front of the house, with an iron rail fence at the sidewalk.
"So do we have an idea what type of foes we may be up against?" Triton asked the Wanderer. "Warriors or Creatures, I care not. They will fall before our combined might."
Triton stood now with his namesake in his hand. He raises it above his head and the booming of thunder rings out behind him.
"Our presence is announced. Let the battle begin."
The Wanderer cringed from the cracking thunder and murmured under his breath, "And I thought I knew how to make an entrance."
He peered into the night and spoke aloud to Triton without diverting his glance. "I don't know what to expect, the Mystic dabbles in that weird stuff. Did you ever see Ghostbusters? He said he was outnumbered, so prepare for that." With a gloved hand the Wanderer beckoned Triton to follow him as he lurked along the building line toward the residence of his friend.
The two worked their way down the street, getting as far as the bookstore without any sign that they had been detected. Neither was there any sign of life from the home of the Mystic.
Several blocks away in a quiet parking garage, Defender was changing into his union suit. The Wanderer had implied a need for speed in the tone of his voice. A peel of thunder echoed in the distance.
"Great. I get to fight the unknown in the rain. Bloody typical."
Mundane clothing tucked in the trunk, Defender set out to cover the remaining distance with his version of the Seven League Stride.
Meanwhile the Wanderer led he and Triton across the street approaching the compound. "We'll dispense with manners and not ring the bell," he said as he walked to the main house looking for any signs of forced entry.
He saw no signs of any such thing from the front.
Things were quiet, and he so dearly hoped that the battle was here and not in some outer dimension from the magick the Mystic wove. He turned to Triton and waved him along to explore the perimeter of the house thereupon they would seek entry by whatever means presented itself.
In the alley out back a panel truck was parked, blocking the garage. The back door to the house itself had been completely removed and was leaning against the wall. It appeared to have fingerholds punched straight through it and appeared to have been simply yanked free.
The Wanderer approached the truck and decided to cripple it from further use by freeing it of it's steering wheel. After a quick tug the instrument was in the Wanderer's hand and he motioned for Triton to follow him inside. As he passed by the Wanderer rubbed his hand over the fingerholds to gauge the force needed to do such a thing.
The Wanderer figured that he could probably get in done, but not with the casual ease of whoever had done this.
As they stood at the doorway, they heard a noise coming toward them. From where they stood they could see a stairway at the far end of the house, facing the front door and voices seemed to be coming down it.
The Wanderer looked for a nice spot to surprise the guests and waited for their descent. He motioned to Triton toward the stairway and indicated to get ready.
Triton examined the door with some excitement as he realized that a worthy foe was approaching. He appreciated the respect that the Wanderer showed him by allowing him to be first in battle. If only there was not a hostage involved. To resort to any trickery tasted foul but the Wanderer did say that this hostage was something of a Sage and probably feeble.
Even as these thought crossed Triton's mind he sub-consciously reached towards the sea and called a fog towards them.
A fog quickly rose around the two heroes hiding them from sight. They stood on either side of the door and waited.
The two heroes crouched by the door in the fog. Out of the door, a figure out of legend suddenly loomed. It was a knight dressed in a full suit of gothic plate armour, over that was a white tabard with a device of two crossed swords in black [argent, two swords in saltire sable] belted with a broad leather belt from which a workmanlike sword hung. The beaver of his helmet was up, but his face was obscured by the fog. He was carrying what looked like a loose bundle of cloth in his left hand. As he stepped out, he said over his shoulder with an English accent, "That went pretty well, I think."
He took another step or two forward and was followed out the door by another man, "It's not over yet, Swordsman." This man was dressed in simple brown robes and an archaic looking head-covering.
The sound of that voice perked the ears of the Wanderer, who muttered under his breath "He's baaack."
"No, I don't think it is." Triton answers the robed man's statement as the fog clears out in a path between himself and the Swordsman. Triton tipped his weapon towards the Swordsman. "I hope that your namesake is appropriate." Triton continues his conversation with the armored figure.
"Prepare yourself for battle, Warrior, for you shall not leave until you have met my challenge."
Even as Triton was making his challenge, the Wanderer was moving. The alien tensed and drew back the steering wheel and let it fly toward his armoured target. Hoping for a ringing clang, the Wanderer was moving quickly nevertheless to engage the robed man in the distraction his toss would cause.
The Wanderer's aim was true. The steering wheel shattered on the armoured figure's back, sending him staggering forward a step.
"Caitiff!" cried the man, "Your fellow-knave strikes from the rear. You shall pay nonetheless." He drew his sword and prepared to engage.
The Wanderer confronted the other man, behind his foe he saw another figure or two moving in the mist.
"You!" said the man. "Again you foil my plans. Twice already you have balked me, you shall not stop me a third!"
"Now now, they say the third time is the charm," said the Wanderer closing rapidly. He led with a right to the man's jaw, "And I am QUITE charming!" The Black Druid ducked back and the blow was only glancing. The Wanderer's follow up punches missed.
"Now, feel the fires of Vermithrax!" shouted the Druid. A blast of Eldritch flame leapt from the Druid's hands and passed harmlessly above the Wanderer's head burning a clear spot in the mist. "Damn you," he cried and ran back into the house.
Stepping up in his place was a strange looking creature. Manlike, with wavy green hair, scaly blue skin and orange eyes, the creature wore trousers of some metallic golden material, crossed straps of some kind of leather across his chest and metal bracers on his wrists. "Now face the champion of the arena, human." He dropped into a guard and prepared to fight.
Triton looked disgustedly at the Wanderer because of his cowardly attack. "I will wait till you are ready." Triton told the armored fiend. "Engage when you wish."
The Swordsman was already lunging, and Triton swept his trident across his body to deflect the blade. There was unexpected power behind the blow and the flat clipped Triton just slightly. Triton whirled his weapon around ... and slipped on a wet patch of sidewalk. His blow went wide.
Out of the corner his eye, Triton saw a woman materialize in the space between the Wanderer and the Swordsman. She was wearing armour of futuristic design but her head was bare, showing a wealth of dark hair. Then Triton had to turn his attention back to the Swordsman.
The Swordsman was pressing him hard, wielding his blade with skill and power. Triton was blocking the shots, but was still slowly being beaten down.
The woman looked around and said, "We're wasting time. The Bonds of Light will deal with this one." She gestured, and a sphere of golden light sprang into existence around the Wanderer.
"Another time, then," said the blue man, pushing past the imprisoned alien and joining the woman as she headed toward the truck. After a moment, the Black Druid slipped out as well, pausing to hiss, "I finally remembered you. After all these years you returned to thwart me, but there will be a reckoning." Then he ran to join the others.
The Wanderer quickly assessed his situation pressing against the sphere, "I love having a ball as much as the next guy, but..." His words trailed off into the night as the sphere which had contained him became instantly empty. Then, just as instantly, the Wanderer appeared within arm's length of the offending party. Chivalry may be dead, and the Wanderer's actions may very well have spelt the death knell as he grabbed the woman and looked to throw her into the Black Druid. "If you wanted to dance Slimderella, then allow me to lead!"
The Black Druid flinched away and the woman sailed over his head smashing into the back wall of the house and sliding to the ground. Her armour was for more than the show, though, and she climbed quickly to her feet.
"Good," said the blue man stepping up to Wanderer. "I wanted to crush you and now I shall. I am Dradoom." He crouched into a fighting stance.
Unnoticed by all, a dim shape floated across the scene of battle through the mist and landed softly on the truck.
The swordsman kept the pressure on Triton throughout.
Triton blocked like a madman, but sooner or later, even the best make a mistake. The Swordsman's sword opened up a gash on Triton's side and he slumped to the ground.
The figure on the truck launched itself. "Triple Lindy time!" Defender yelled as he flipped toward Dradoom. The blue man blinked in surprise and dropped down quickly to the ground so that Defender went over his head. Dradoom bounced back to his feet.
"Whee!" Defender yelled again as he launched himself toward the Black Druid. "Make way for Defender!" The Black Druid tried to imitate Dradoom, but with less success. Defender crashed into him and the two men ended locked in an ungainly embrace.
The Swordsman turned from the fallen Triton and moved back toward the action.
The Wanderer struck a pose reminiscent of John L. Sullivan and looked every bit like a bare knuckles champ from the 1920s. As he bounced around, naturally he spoke, "Dradoom? is that Scottish?" He feinted, bobbed and weaved, and proclaimed, "No, that is Brigadoon. Any relation?"
"No," said Dradoom, "It's ..." and he mouthed some unpronounceable syllables in a hissing tongue, before leaping in with a twisting back kick and following it up with a combination of punches and kicks.
Defender took up a firm stance and popped the Black Druid firmly once in the belly and once on the jaw. The villian crumpled to the ground.
"Bikity bam. One for the good guys." Defender spun around and assessed the situation.
What he saw was the Wanderer giving ground to Dradoom. Dradoom's fighting style was unorthodox but effective. Clearly he was trained but it was like no style Defender had ever seen.
The Swordsman regarded the fight, nodded as if satisfied, then stooped and picked up the cloth bundle he had been carrying and had dropped while fighting Triton. It looked to be some kind of garment, a coat or a cloak. He strode quickly to the truck. A moment later, his voice rang out, "The swine have bollixed the van!"
The Black Witch spoke, "It does not matter. We have what we came for, let us deal with these interlopers and depart."
Dradoom added, "I should be finished with this one soon."
"Good, and I will deal with you," she said turning to Defender and raising her hands. A bolt of lightning arced out towards the hero but missed, perhaps the mist spoiled her aim. She gestured again but the second bolt also was wide.
"Holy crow! And me without my rubber soled boots." Defender cursed his luck. He had been raised to respect women. Fighting them was against something deep down inside. On the other hand, this woman was trying to fry him. He sucked it up and leapt for the wall above her sticking to it with disconcerting ease.
Dradoom launched another series of attacks on the Wanderer.
The Wanderer blocked Dradoom's punch, surprising both himself and his foe.
The Wanderer took the chance to wave smartly and disappeared from Dradoom's vicinity.
He reappeared next to the Black Witch but seemed a bit woozy. His swings at the woman were slow and missed.
Dradoom looked around, finally catching sight of the hero through the mist.
The Black Witch yelled, "Swordsman, a hand please. I'll help the Druid." Matching action to word she ran to where the Druid lay on the ground and began to gently slap his face to rouse him.
The Swordsman reentered the yard and took up a position by the Black Witch.
Defender dropped lightly off the wall, and taking up his best offensive stance attacked the Swordsmen with fists and feet. Bemused by the unorthodox attack, the Swordsman let one blow slip by and was rocked on his heels.
"Well struck," he said. "My turn." He lunged, but twisted his ankle on the slick concrete.
The Swordsman took the fight to Defender with a dazzlng display of bladework. He dropped the cloth bundle in the process. "Witch, take this."
Defender shouted, "Wanderer. Grab the cloth. That's what they are after! Whooof!" The last comment came as the Swordsman landed a solid backhand with the flat of the blade and sent Defender sailing back into the wall of the house. The Swordsman closed in and his next blow drove Defender through the wall of the house into the kitchen. Somehow he kept his footing and leapt back out of the hole, catching the wall as he went by and ending up stuck to the wall about three meters up.
The Black Witch scooped up the cloth and fanned the Black Druid with it. The Druid's eyes fluttered, and popped open. "Come along," said the Witch as she helped him to his feet. "The Swordsman and Dradoom will take care of things here."
The pair started off as Dradoom closed in on the Wanderer. "We are not yet done," he said, as he launched a kick at the alien. The Wanderer tried to parry, but failed and took the kick on the chin. He collapsed to the ground.
Dradoom looked almost dissappointed, then turned to join the Black Witch and Black Druid.
The back door to the house swung open with a bang and a man that Defender assumed must be the Mystic stepped out, saying, "This is not finished yet!" He was accompanied by what looked like an elongated and flattened bear carrying some kind of blaster pistol.
"Avaunt thee," said the Mystic, "and taste the Flames of Vieltoor!" Fire leapt from his hands toward the Swordsman who jumped back as they danced around him.
"We are not defeated while we live," said the bear-creature in an extremely gravelly voice and with an odd accent as he fired his blaster at the Swordsman narrowly missing.
The Swordsman charged back, "By God this time, I'll kill you!" His blow came in true toward the Mystic who tried to whip his cloak around the blade and deflect it. He failed and the blade cut deep. The Mystic gasped and said, "Vieltoor protects me," again fire blazed from his hands, the Swordsman tried to dodge clear yanking his blade free as he went.
The bear fired at him as backed away and the Swordsman staggered. A second shot dropped him to his knees. The Mystic stepped in and swung a roundhouse punch at the Swordsman who tried desperately to parry but failed and instead flopped onto his back out cold.
Dradoom sized up the opposition and raced after the retreating Black Witch and Black Druid, "There will be another time."
Defender shook out the cob-webs as he watched the Swordsman hit the ground. A satisfied smirk lit upon his face and he saluted the Mystic and his Right Spiritual Right Cross. Taking a deep breath, he leapt from the wall after the retreating villians.
"Don't run! Don't run!"
He landed just out side the misty area just in time to see the Black Witch and her cargo vanish into the air. In the sky, a large bird was flying away and nearby Dradoom was watching him.
Dradoom smiled, "Rain check. My compatriots await." He raised his hands, "Until then enjoy the Bonds of Cythak." A series of red ribbons appeared out of the air and wrapped around Defender pinning his arms and legs. Dradoom grinned again and loped off down the alley.
Back in the yard, The Wanderer staggered to his feet to see the foes rush off. Shaking a fist at their retreat, he taunted "There's more where that came from!" and wobbled over to the Mystic. "Some cavalry I turned out to be, good to see you again my friend."
The alien eyed the bear, "Have we met before?"
"I don't think so," said the creature.
"This is my new apprentice, he has taken the name Ragnar Bruin since his true name is unpronounceable by human tongues," said the Mystic. "His story is interesting but his to tell."
The Wanderer filed away the comment about human tongues and remembered Hester's claim of bears and UFOs, making a note to pursue this further. "I'd be most interested in hearing your story Mr. Bruin. But it seems like there is business to take care of."
The Wanderer jogged toward the alley and the fight.
Defender approached cautiously, stopping just shy of his opponent's reach. He struck a defensive posture and spoke. "We can dance or we can take a rain check until the next time. What will it be?"
Dradoom smiled, "Rain check. My compatriots await." He raised his hands, "Until then enjoy the Bonds of Cythak." A series of red ribbons appeared out of the air and wrapped around Defender pinning his arms and legs. Dradoom grinned again and loped off down the alley.
A second later the Wanderer joined Defender.
"Is there something in the 'Villain's Code' that requires a lack of trust?" Defender said as he struggled to break his bonds.
Turning to see Dradoom disappear from sight, the Wanderer spoke to Defender. "I came to lend you a hand, but if you're tied up I can come back."
"Actually, any assistance you could lend would be appreciated."
The Wanderer reached out and grabbed the mystic ribbon and pulled in hopes of freeing Defender.
Their combined strength proved sufficient and the ribbon parted with a faint squeal, then vanished into nothingness.
"If they ever market those ribbons, remind me not to get any for my kid."
Defender looked after the escaping villains. They were long gone. He clapped the Wanderer on the shoulder as they turned back toward the house. "So. How you doin'?"
The Wanderer exhaled audibly, "Tired, I'm very tired." He jerked his head in the direction of the Mystic's house, "Let's go meet our rescued host."
"I can imagine. My apologies for being late. I got here as fast as I could. Ka-Sador was involved with some other things, otherwise he would have been here as well." Defender stopped long enough to shake masonry dust from his hair. "You know, they are making walls tougher these days."
Triton stumbled over to the rest of the band, his bravado a bit lessened by the his recent performance. "I have shamed myself with my performance this evening. My former Masters would have me scouring armor for many moons to learn from my mistakes."
"You fared no worse than the rest of us," said the Mystic, who then slumped down to the floor in a seated position. "Ragnar, would you deal with our guest," he indicated the Swordsman. The bear-man nodded and went to begin stripping the villian of his armour and weapons.
An Asian man stumbled out of the house dazedly, "Master?" he cried.
"Ah, Shar-Chi, I am glad you are up and about," said the Mystic, "Would you fetch the medical kit? I'm bleeding rather heavily over the Cloak of Vieltoor."
The Wanderer approached the Mystic, "One of them I recognized. Who were the others? and are they still working for Darkspell?"
"Darkspell?" Defender asked, perching himself on an undamaged section of kitchen wall. "Confused now."
Shar-Chi returned and began to patch up the Mystic. "Darkspell is still incarcerated by your friends in IPAC. I do not know if the Black Druid is still working with him or not. The object they made off with, though, is the Cloak of Daemonus -- Darkspell's cloak. The others I do not know, although the one called Dradoom looks familiar, his race I mean. I wonder if he is not of this plane."
"There seems to be quite a few travellers through Port Alexander," observed the Wanderer looking at the massive Bruin. Brief introductions were offered around as the Wanderer presented Defender and Triton to the Mystic before excusing himself for a vital phone call.
As he did, the Mystic filled Defender and Triton in on their history with Darkspell and The Black Druid (Jewel Part 1 and Jewel Part 2).
The Wanderer extracted his beeperphone and rang through to IPAC, with an urgent message. If the Cloak of Daemonus was missing then Darkspell could be the very next acquisition by the Black Druid. Better to warn IPAC to potential trouble than be called in to pick up the pieces.
He was quickly patched through to Mr. Wilkins who listened with great interest. "Volt has escaped as you know, but it sounds like he's not hooked up with the Black Druid. You may be right, they may be coming after Darkspell soon. We'll keep an eye open but from what you say, we might not have the firepower to stop them. Any idea when they might come at us?"
"Negative on that," the Wanderer barked out mimicking Wilkins' militaristic tone. "One of their merry band has been detained here so their timeline could be thrown off. I'd suggest moving Darkspell immediately to another location, delousing him, and giving him another full cavity search just for the thrill of it all. And make sure he knows that it was under my recommendation, got that?"
"Understood," said Wilkins in a voice which showed no trace of amusement. "You have a prisoner, do you need pickup and an interrogation team?"
"That would be swell," exclaimed the Wanderer and gave the directions before hanging up.
As he returned to the group, the Wanderer informed them of IPAC's pending arrival to take the Swordsman into custody and hinted that any questioning should be done post haste.
"Mystic," he addressed his friend, "do you know where they will go next? are you safe here?"
"I don't know for certain what they will do, perhaps he does," he indicated the Swordsman. "We should be safe enough now. Not only do they have what they wanted but we are now forewarned."
The Wanderer walked up to Ragnar Bruin and extended his hand, "Thank you for protecting my friend as well as saving us. How did you meet the Mystic?"
"I am not of this planet," began Ragnar, "I am of an ancient race called the Krai. Our ship came here in pursuit of an escaped slave and another captive. We were unable to recover the prisoners and were defeated by an Earthling called Mike and the escaped slave. In the process, our ship was destroyed and we were stranded.
"This planet and its people were a revelation to me. In my own way, I had been as much a slave as our prisoners. Krai culture is hierarchical," he continued.
"Almost fuedal," said the Mystic, "and Ragnar was much like a serf."
"Yes," said the Krai, "I fled. I stole a holographic projector to disguise myself and came to the city."
"Where he found himself at the bookshop next door," said the Mystic picking up the thread. "There are certain types of people who find themselves drawn to this location. That I live in this house and not another is no accident. Ragnar shows a sensitivity and talent and I have taken him on as an apprentice."
The Wanderer stole a glance over toward Defender and asked, "Defender, we should probably check the perimeter to make sure we aren't being watched."
"And after that, perhaps we should move inside, Master," said Shar-Chi, "Your wound has been closed as well as my skill allows."
Defender dropped lightly from the wall. "Fair enough. I'll take the rooftops."
Defender started his sweep, and the Mystic rose and gestured to his apprentices, "We shall take the prisoner inside, join us when you are ready."
As soon as the others were inside, the Wanderer caught up to Defender and engaged him in conversation. "I don't know the whole story, but doesn't a ship of bears looking for an escaped slave sound a little too coincidental considering our favorite bird?"
"Funny, I was thinking something of that nature. I'm very glad that he was elsewhere tonight," Defender said has he ran a hand through his hair. "This could have been ugly, otherwise."
The Wanderer looked off into the distance and then turned back to Defender. "What are you going to tell Ka-sador? Do you think a bear who deals in slaves and the total destruction of worlds can be reformed?," grinned the Wanderer.
"I've heard stranger stories." Defender turned his head to the left, following a sound. When he was satisfied that it was no danger, he returned his attention to the subject at hand.
"Honestly, I've no idea what I'm going to tell my partner. I need to tell him something." Defender thought for a moment. "I suppose I'll simply tell him the truth. I suspect he will want to avoid contact with this Ragnar Bruin for the duration. Let's hope he doesn't decide to turn this into a bear hunt. I'll tell you this... with as many aliens as I've come in contact with over the last few weeks, I'm beginning to feel a bit like a cultural ambassador. I'm still trying to figure out Triton."
"Better you tell him than me," quipped the Wanderer as he picked up some litter blowing by and put it in his pocket. "As for Triton, he's probably the only defender of the seas I've ever seen that sinks like a rock." As Defender pondered that statement, the Wanderer called the search off "They're gone, we should be getting back and see how the Mystic is doing."
"That I can understand, Defender, for I am much confused myself." Triton answers the offhand comment of the Armored Hero. "I am not sure if I am here to learn, to do, or to just be punished, but I am sure I am providing a good laugh whatever the reason."
"Actually, if you want a laugh, you should have seen the look on my face when I went through that wall." Defender shock his head. A small cloud of masonry dust blossomed from his hair. "I'm sure it was something like this."
He made a face of utter surprise. Giggling afterwards, he patted the light padding of his garish costume. "Funny how little these outfits help when you hit a wall. I recommend that you look at it all as a learning experience. Even if all you learn is what not to do, you are still a better man for it."
The trio returned to the Mystic's home and went through the kitchen door, except Defender who went through the Defender sized hole in the wall.
Shar-Chi and Ragnar were cleaning up the debris and indicated that the Mystic was in the next room. The Swordsman was bound tightly with many wrappings of steel cable, but the Mystic kept a careful eye on him nonetheless. "All clear outside," he asked when the heroes joined him.
The Wanderer had seen the Condominium Sanctorum before, but the others had not. Defender was amazed by the collection of arcana that graced the walls -- relics of bygone ages and lost civilizations were next to books both new and old and rubbed shoulders with equipment both familiar and unknown. Triton recognized more of the pieces than Defender and was surprised to find an image of his mother on one vase of great antiquity.
"Mystic," the Wanderer called out, "How did they know to find you here? Did the Cloak of Daemonus summon them somehow? I know of worlds where artifacts of great power call out to seekers," he probed.
"I do not know," was the reply. "It may be that that is the case. It could also be that Black Druid assumed I would take the Cloak into my keeping, and then simply found me."
"I don't like that bird-man," said the Wanderer stealing a glance over to Ragnar,"not one bit." The Wanderer tossed a decanter into the air and teleported over to catch it, "But that witch chick, I think she had the hots for me. Do you have her number Mystic?"
"No. Her magic had a certain ... Celtic feel. I'd guess she trained in Britain. Perhaps she met the Druid there."
"Your collection is amazing." Triton states as he takes in the atmosphere. "Everything I have seen so far is so ....busy and .....bright. It is the simple things that show the most skill."
"Thank you, I have worked long and hard to gather some of these items, as did my master before me," said the Mystic. "IPAC will be here soon, did you have questions for our guest?"
Defender, overwhelmed by the entire situation, merely shrugged. He had no idea where to even begin.
The Wanderer struck a menacing pose and confronted the Swordsman, "Who do you work for? and why were you after the Cloak of Daemonus?"
"For? No one. We work together," said the Swordsman. He didn't bother to answer the second question.
The Wanderer chuckled at his obstinance, "I know that my suave looks may fool you, but I am just as much a fighter as a lover. Don't make me get nasty. Where are your rougish associates?"
"Aren't I supposed to have a lawyer for this?"
"Do you want a lawyer?" asked the Wanderer sympathetically.
"Eventually, I think I will," came the reply.
Defender burst out in peels of laughter. The complete absurdity of the situation had finally trickled through his mind. He was helping an ancient mystic and a space-faring, raygun wielding bear fight some escapees from a bad fantasy novel to protect some magical wind-cheater. Now Roland the Bold here was asking for a lawyer.
Naturally, all present looked toward the near hysterical hero.
"I'm sorry. Did you ask for a lawyer? The guy who tried to run me through with a sword and did succeed in driving me through a wall? A lawyer? Do you have any idea how extremely silly that sounds coming from Sir Galahad and his 60 pounds of chain mail armor?"
Speaking had a calming effect and Defender took his place back on the wall. Of course, he was still wracked with giggles now and again as he realized how silly his costume was. Yep, he thought. I'm keeping this outfit.
The Swordsman cracked a smile, "Yes, I know how silly it is. But it's one of the reasons I love this country."
The Wanderer walked over to the bookshelf and placed his hand on the forehead of a bust of Shakespeare. Then in an instant he disappeared and reappeared beside the Swordsman holding the bust. "Perhaps I'll take this!," he grabbed the Swordsman's sword arm, "to a lawyer, but leave the rest of you here!"
Triton walked around admiring the Mystic's collection of art. He was kind of lost in all this talk about lawyers. "Are we going to ransom him back?" Triton asked the group.
Any answer that anyone could make was cut off when a strange man entered the room leading what was instantly identifiable as an IPAC security team. "The gentlemen from IPAC have arrived," he said.
"Thank you Ragnar," said the Mystic. "The prisoner," he said pointing to the Swordsman.
As the security team gathered up Swordsman, Defender waved good-bye and feigned sadness. "I'll miss you most Scarecrow. Buh-bye. Don't forget to write and tell us all how camp is."
Then in what passed for an Eddie Murphy impression, he added, "Officers, might I suggest you use your nightsticks."
Soon enough, the villian was bundled away and the heroes left standing in the room alone. A moment later, Shar-Chi entered with a pot of tea.
"I never did like him," Defender spoke as he waved 'good bye' to the Swordsman. "Druids, magical cloaks, evil wizards. I'm afraid I'm out of my depth. What I do know is how to swing a hammer. Do you have anything to patch that hole with?"
The Wanderer appeared next to Defender waving a credit card that surprisingly said "Wanderer" in the name location. "This is how I fix things."
"Some plywood, masonry nails and a couple of hammers will make for a makeshift wall for the immediate future. Believe me, I've no difficulty putting nails through brick." Defender thought for a moment, then looked at the Wanderer. "You teleported away the insides of the rocks, didn't you?"
"I never kiss and tell," said the alien before surprising Defender with a wet one. Then he was gone, drinking tea across the room. "Gentlemen," he addressed Defender and Triton, "we should be going to prepare for the next wave of no-goodedness by these dastardly doo-doo heads." The Wanderer called out to the Mystic, "you will let us know if you sense any other activity?"
Triton sniffed at the tea but passed wondering why anyone would want to drink polluted water. "What exactly were they after?" Triton asked the Mystic.
"The Cloak of Daemonus, and they got it. The cloak is a powerful mystic artifact said to belong to one of legendary twin sorcerors, Daemonus and Vieltoor," said the Mystic. "The cloak is nearly a twin to this one that I wear in design. The cloak provides an adept with superhuman strength and agility, and may hold other secrets. Darkspell is the latest incarnation of Daemonus, perhaps. Certainly he walks in Daemonus' footsteps."
"Are there other artifacts that may be targeted for theft?" Triton asks the Mystic. "There was almost an entire army here, there has to be more to their plans then just a simple theft."
"It is possible," said the Mystic. "There are artifacts of great power in the world. I do not know what their next objective might be if that is indeed their goal."
"That Dradoom character," asked the Wanderer," is there some kind of sustenance that he may need to stay on this plane. Maybe we can stake out the Burger Barn or something?"
The Wanderer's beeperphone went off, interrupting any other conversation. On the other end was Wilkins, "Good guess about the raid on the PNDF, Wanderer. It's going down now. We're hanging tough with this prisoner here for the moment. How fast can you get out there?"
"We're on our way!" he said quickly before breaking the connection. "Gents," he addressed the assembled group of heroes. "Round Two has already started and there are some open spots on the dance card. It appears that our friends are trying to break their friend Darkspell out of jail."
The alien ran to the door. "Shall we?"
After a quick discussion, the heroes decided to take the Mystic's Nissan Pathfinder. It comfortably seated the four of them in back and Ragnar in front driving.
After fifteen minutes or so, the beeperphone went off again. "Too late, they got Darkspell and got out," said Wilkins.
"There is some good news, though. I think," he continued, "This Swordsman guy wised up and gave us some info. He says that the others need Darkspell because he's got information they need. Something about helping them get back to Dradoom's home dimension. Says that Dradoom was exiled, but that Darkspell can help them get back ... and maybe get some kind of super magic weapons."
The Wanderer struck the dash in disgust, and then relayed the information to the others. "Home Paddington!" he told Ragnar and twisted in the seat to face Defender and Triton. "I think things just got more interesting, and dangerous."
"I'd like to order interesting with not so much danger, please," Defender joked.
"We'll see if we can figure out where they're heading, but I don't think our pigeon knows anything else," continued Wilkins. "Do you guys have any ideas?"
"We may have a lead," voiced the Wanderer. "We'll let you know if we hear anything."
Ragnar pulled off at the next exit and turned back toward the city, "Back to the Condominium Sanctorum?"
The Wanderer asked, "Mystic, since we know there is something to do with getting Dradoom back to his dimension, are there any places you know of which may assist this particular incantation? Where is a Stonehenge when you need one?"
"Not without more research, but if that is the information Darkspell has, it must be difficult to discover or they wouldn't need him. He must know something else," said the Mystic.
"In this case, I'm going to have to defer to the more knowledgable." Defender smoothed his hair. "If there are any other developments, please let me know. Beyond that, just drop me off anywhere."
"I too am at a loss as to what to do next." Triton adds to the discussion. "I am still trying to understand your ways and do not know the boundaries of behavior that one can cross freely."
The Wanderer shreiked, "Stop the car!" Ragnar hit the brakes and the SUV skidded slightly on the deserted street as everyone stared at the Wanderer. "I'm hungry. Anybody want a CommerceDog? I crave a Dutchman Nachos! Ragnar, let's go to the CommerceDome." Reluctantly the Bear Alien wheeled the vehicle around as the Wanderer explained first encountering the Black Druid and Darkspell at the CommerceDome in some odd ceremony. The Mystic nodded.
"The CommerceDome," said the Mystic. "Perhaps. But without the Jewel, I do not know what they might want to accomplish, and for a ritual of such power, timing is also critical. I have no better idea, though."
The SUV drove on through the night toward the dome leaving each hero alone with his thoughts. Soon, they arrived at their destination and Ragnar pulled the vehicle to a stop in the deserted parking lot.
"Everybody remember where we parked," said the Wanderer dryly. The alien got out of the SUV and pointed to the CommerceDome. "Last time they were on the 50 yard line, we should check it out."
The heroes spread out and carefully entered the Dome. A few moments later, they gathered at the 50 yard line to compare notes. All agreed the Commerce Dome seemed empty.
The Wanderer sighed, "Guess the only thing left is to punt."
"Doesn't look like we are going to get anywhere tonight," Defender said. "I suspect it may be a few days before anything else happens. Don't these sort of magical rituals have to happen on a full moon or solstice or something?"
"In any case, let me know when or if I'm needed for this. If we are lucky, big, bad and ugly was just trying to find a way home. Speaking of which, I think that's where I'm heading. Good night all."
Defender started toward the entrance of the Dome. More to himself than anything, he added, "I think I might have to detour through the 'Parts tonight. Might give me a chance to feel useful again."
The Wanderer gave a distracted grunt of approval then commented, "Well, you do need your beauty sleep." A grin broke out on his face as he shook hands with Defender and thanked him for the speedy assistance.
Triton takes in the sights and smells of the arena while everyone compares notes. "Does this have anything to do with the creature we were after at the docks?"
The Wanderer turned to Triton, "Not really. But it sure was fun, wasn't it?" The Wanderer fished (no pun intended) around in his pockets and pulled out his electronic organizer, "I can fit in sea monster hunting tomorrow night if you're free?"