Outside, the man keeping the vigil had felt the sacred book itself being unwrapped and wore a look of extreme wonder on his face as he struggled not to answer the siren call that the book possessed. Only an iron will allowed him to ignore the call and maintain his watch. The man took several steps backward as the call diminished in strength to just the traces of its former pull.
“Alma indigna,” the man muttered as he thought of the man he followed to this place touching the treasure that his order has searched for since World War II. His clan was the foremost of the true people entrusted with returning the sacred artifact stolen by one of lesser races. Much glory would come with returning the sacred book, but even more would come if the signs were correct. His clan chief said the one known as Marco Gonzales was the True Dreamer as prophesied so long ago. The True Dreamer was necessary to find the holy place that would restore his people to their former glory as well as elevate the servant race back to their previous position.
At the gallery, Winston Winthrop was escorting the last patron of the art outside. “The artist has already left madam to go home to his wife. I suggest you do the same.” He locked the door after the woman left and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe his hands fussily. As he turned, he was surprised to see a figure carefully examining a picture of a Mayan building.
“The gallery is closed, sir,” Winthrop said, but the man pulled the painting from the wall and then removed it from the frame.
“I am calling the police.” Winthrop moved over to the phone and quickly tried to dial the number. Without effort, the man leaped the distance between them, slicing the phone cord with his fingernails.
“Pitiful creature, you will do nothing,” the man said, grabbing Winthrop with one hand and easily picking him up off the floor. Winthrop dangled in the air for a bit, trying to beg for mercy, but the hand cut off his breath. The man looked with disgust at Winthrop before tossing him into one of the walls. Winthrop slid down to the tile floor unconscious as the man rolled up the painting in his other hand.
“Such pathetic creatures these humans are,” the man said, smiling at the rolled-up painting before placing it in a carrying case.
“Now I must go capture the True Dreamer and his mate to make certain that full cooperation is possible, while others in my clan recover the book,” the man said to himself as he flowed into his own inhuman shadow to streak underneath the locked door.
It was several hours later, and Mitch Shelley was making some progress in reading the book, busy writing his conclusions down in a notepad while sipping on a cold cup of coffee.
The book seems to be a combination of a map and an instruction manual for a Mayan device. I am impressed with whoever came up with the magic warding the book. The book acts as a lure to those with the potential to use magic, sucking them inside an artificial reality, and to those without that potential it appears to be some sort of innocuous writing. It takes a great deal of willpower to see the book as it truly is without being compelled to physically touch it. My theories about my client have solidified into only one possible conclusion. My conclusion is that he is magically gifted with the sight and, because of his bloodline, can safely interact with the book.
Shelley stopped and turned to the next page to draw a small map and a name. The phone rang, and he put down the pen to answer it. He heard the panicked voice of Mrs. Gonzales on the line.
“Señor Shelley, my husband has locked himself in his painting room and has been painting ever since he returned from the showing. I am greatly worried. Have you discovered anything in that hideous book to stop this?”
“I have some answers for him, Mrs. Gonzales, about what the book is. I haven’t finished translating the whole text in the book, but if you are that concerned, I will come over now.”
“Please, Señor Shelley. The address of our home is on the paper that the book was enshrouded in.” The line went dead suddenly as Shelley looked with puzzlement at the phone.
“Mrs. Gonzales?” Shelley put the phone down as a concerned expression crossed his face. The thump of a canister hitting the floor drew his attention to the front of his office. The canister hissed loudly as a pink gas quickly filled the room. Shelley tasted the bitter smoke that surrounded him before slumping back in his chair, coughing loudly as the smoke got in his lungs.
Several minutes passed as Shelley laid back in the chair, seemingly killed by the gas before the man from the outside came into the office. The gas had evaporated completely as the man looked around the desk. He slid the special book into a special box pulled from within his jacket before leaving, a very satisfied expression on his face as he went.
That expression would have been far different if he had looked behind him to see the seemingly dead Shelley watching him leave the office before rising from the chair. Shelley waited two minutes before trying to follow the man. Shelley then found him just in time to see the man transform into an animal-shaped shadow that swiftly streaked away.
Shelley returned to his office to retrieve the address of the Gonzales home and then removed two rune-covered armbands from a hidden safe built into one of the columns. He concentrated fiercely as the clothes he was wearing transformed into a costume. Now garbed as the Dragon Knight, Shelley walked toward the back of his office warehouse to uncover a modified street cycle. The Dragon Knight exited through a concealed doorway that opened and then sealed shut behind him as the cycle raced toward the Gonzales home.
He arrived to discover that the Gonzales homestead was apparently unmolested as he surveyed the heavily modified ranch house. The red light from an activated security system shone on the front door and the two visible windows on the first floor. Dragon Knight reached into the bag strapped to his street cycle to pull out a high-tech, deco-shaped gun. He aimed it at the door, and a soft light gleamed from the barrel. The red light on the security system switched from a steady red to an intermittent green color. Dragon Knight flipped a switch on the deco gun, and its form morphed into the shape of a key. Dragon Knight stuck the key in the door and waited for it to re-form to open the lock. He then unlocked the front door and walked inside. The security system reactivated several moments later, showing no signs of being tampered with.
His movements were naturally stealthy as he glided through the rooms searching for Mr. and Mrs. Gonzales. He found a phone with its cord cut in the kitchen but no signs of either the unnatural creature he encountered or the couple. He searched both floors of the house before heading toward the last room that was unlocked. It was obviously the artist’s work room, as the smell of paint and paint thinner still hung heavily in the air. A rapid survey of the paintings indicated that only a select few had been taken.
Dragon Knight examined the still-drying painting on the easel. The painting was of a Mayan temple identical to the one he saw from the portal trap placed on the book. An educated guess about where the missing couple have been taken to was reached, and the Dragon Knight went back into the main part of the house to search for an address book. He memorized only one number from the book before replacing everything to its position. He then repeated his actions in deactivating the alarm system and re-locking the door before jumping on his cycle and returning to his warehouse home.
He transformed back to Mitch Shelley and replaced the power bands in their hiding place before sitting down at his desk. A thoughtful expression was on his face as he considered all the options available to him. Calling the police would seem to be the safest route, but they couldn’t do anything unless he revealed that he had entered the house. That course of action wouldn’t help Mr. and Mrs. Gonzales, anyway, since he knew that their abductors were more than human. Contacting a new super-hero group in Mexico he’d learned about would be just as fruitless, since they would consider him another crank. The possibility of just ignoring this chain of events didn’t even occur to Shelley as he came to the conclusion that he would have to go to Mexico, rescue the couple, and prevent whatever sinister schemes were in play.
He picked up his phone and dialed a number. The voice of Dr. Yokito Oka answered the call impatiently. “I’m in the middle of something. Can you call back later?”
“Sorry, Yokito. I need to ask you a favor,” Mitch said with an apologetic tone.
Yokito’s voice changed as she adopted a more civil tone. “It’s you, Mitch! I thought it was someone else. You know that you are welcome to call or come see me at any time.”
“I need for you to look in on Bell for the next couple days while I am gone out of the country. I’m not sure how much time it’s going to take, but I intend to be back as soon as possible. If you could tell our mutual friend about my leaving, I would appreciate that as well.” Mitch was busy assembling his documents as he spoke to Yokito. He put them all in a satchel before adding the translated pieces of the book as well.
“It will be my pleasure to help you, Mitch. Perhaps when you get back, you can explain just why you are going out of the country.” Yokito’s voice lowered as she spoke, becoming sultry.
“Thanks, Yokito. When I get back, we will have dinner, and I’ll tell you everything. I need to get going now, though, so goodbye.” Mitch waited until he heard the answering goodbye from Yokito before hanging up the phone. He went back where he kept his clothing and quickly threw together a travel package before returning to his desk. Dialing another number, he waited until he heard an answer.
“This is Maria de la Vega’s residence. Can I help you?” a young woman said in Spanish.
Mitch replied in the same language, “Is this Señora de la Vega?”
“I am sorry, but she is out on business. I am her assistant Cecile Calle, and perhaps I can be of assistance to you,” the young woman said helpfully.
“Tell her it’s about her cousin and his wife, and that I am catching the first flight to Mexico City if she wishes to meet me there. My name is Mitch Shelley, and she can recognize me, because I will be wearing a jacket with the Gotham Knights on it.” Mitch looked around his office, trying to decide if he needed anything else besides the power bands.
“She will want to know more than that if it concerns her cousin,” the young woman said quickly.
“I don’t have time to go into detail right now. I’m catching the first flight out of the Los Angeles Airport that I can get.” Mitch Shelley hung up the phone, regretting his rudeness to the young woman as she was cut off in a mid-sentence reply. He retrieved the power bands and put them on his wrists before leaving the warehouse. He locked the door behind him before running toward the airport.
In the ranch house of Maria de la Vega, the attractive Cecile Calle put down the telephone, looking concerned. She turned to the bust of William Shakespeare and twisted the head to the right. Two bookcases slid open, revealing a pole leading downward. Calle jumped on the pole and slid down as the statue and bookcase returned to normal. She emerged in an underground lair filled with high-tech gadgetry and weird trophies. She wasted no time in donning a headset that she used to send a radio signal to her nominal boss.
“This is pretty bird calling sword girl. Come in, sword girl,” Calle said with amusement.
In the streets of Mexico City, a scarlet-clad adventurer was battling a group of thugs. She dodged a clumsy swing and then retaliated with a swift kick to the jaw, sending one of the combatants stumbling away. She parried a swinging chain with her blade. A swift smile crossed her face as she activated an electric discharge that surged back through the chain, shocking the chain wielder. She spun her sword, sending the chain flying toward one of the now-fleeing thugs. It spiraled around the running thug’s legs, sending him tumbling to the ground. She pounced on the fallen thug and held her blade directly in front of his face. His eyes started to blink uncontrollably as the sword moved back and forth hypnotically.
“You never seem to learn, Carlos, no matter how many lessons you are taught. Perhaps if you lose one of your eyes, then you will learn that this city is under my protection,” the woman said mockingly as she taunted the frightened thug. The signal from her assistant then reached her radio, distracting her from Carlos.
“Dame Fortune has decided to give you another chance, Carlos, but if the next time we meet you are up to your old tricks, I will take one of your eyes as my trophy.” The woman stepped off of the fallen thug, allowing him to flee. She tapped the radio built into her mask.
“This is sword girl. Talk to me, pretty bird,” she said.
“I received a strange message for your alter ego tonight,” Calle replied.