by Starsky Hutch 76 and CSyphrett
Billie Gunn angrily tugged at the mask on her face, attempted to swat the cowgirl hat off her head, and gave an angry growl as it hung around her neck by the drawstring. The Nebula-Man started to give a titter of laughter and then stopped as she stuck one of the six-shooters in Wing How’s chin. “Let us go,” she said. “Or I’ll blow your playmate away.”
“What kind of heroine are you?” the Nebula-Man and Wing How asked at the same time.
“I’m not a heroine at all — I’m a cop on vacation,” said Billie grimly. “What’s your choice? I don’t have all day.”
“That’s no way to treat the new Crimson Avenger,” the Nebula-Man laughed. “Besides, what makes you think I would give you a working gun?”
The cop pulled the other pistol and fired it into the villain. He stumbled back from the impact. He straightened himself, rage on his face. “Seems to work fine to me,” she said, smiling gleefully.
“I’m going to rend you to pieces for that,” said the Nebula-Man, pointing. A wave of light ripped up the floor as it cut a line across the room.
Wing pushed Billie one way as he leaped the other. Pieces of the marble floor flew like shrapnel as the pair rolled to their feet. The Soldiers of Victory readied themselves as energy crackled in the air.
“You two don’t stand a chance against me,” the Nebula-Man said confidently.
Dragonmage crossed a gallery, leaped across a set of balconies, and paused over the Nebula-Man’s throne room. He tensed as the Nebula-Man faced off against the missing members of the group. He admired Billie’s guts but considered her bluff ill-conceived. At least he hoped she was bluffing.
“You two don’t stand a chance against me,” he heard the Nebula-Man say.
Dragonmage leaped, summoning his inner self in a green ball of flame around his fist. His only thought was striking as he sailed silently through the air. He drove his fist, channeling all of the trapped chi against the back of the Nebula-Man’s head. The villain was driven through the air. Green fire danced under his skin as he flew into a wall.
“Danny?” said Billie. “Danny! You never said you could do that.”
“You never asked,” said the Dragonmage, letting the chi flow through his body again. “Let’s get out of here. Oh… nice costume, by the way.”
“Shut up,” Billie snapped.
“It’s not going to be that easy,” said the Nebula-Man, picking himself off the floor. “This realm and everything in it, including you, are my playthings. None of you are leaving here alive.”
The Nebula-Man gestured, sending a wave of light at his three opponents. It was a simple opening gambit to see what his enemies could do. Wing leaped the wave with a perfectly timed flip forward. That vixen threw herself behind a support column. He had lost sight of the one the woman called Danny. Where had that one gone?
A foot to the side of the head answered his query as he was sent sprawling. He gestured, and two warriors of his own began to rise from the floor. They would put a stop to that one while he dealt with the other two personally.
Dragonmage had bounced into a shadow, becoming virtually invisible against the wall. The two champions waited patiently for him to make the first move. Both wore painted ceremonial masks with demonic visages. The light played across the bronze demon horns of their masks as the two peered about. The taller one wore a red karate gi and black boots. His companion had a simple black coverall with red boots and gloves. A wide array of traditional Japanese weapons adorned their suits.
Taking a deep breath, Dragonmage relaxed his fear away and pressed the homing beacon built into the inner arm of his costume. All he had to do now was buy time.
Billie Gunn took aim with the six shooters. She wasn’t a fighting machine like Danny. Even Wing had better moves. She did have one talent they couldn’t match, though. She could shoot a quarter out of the air. Heck, she could even part Washington’s hair down the middle. Well, maybe not that.
She pulled the revolvers’ triggers. The Nebula-Man grinned; she had missed him by a mile. But he quickly realized he wasn’t the target when one of his bodyguards fell over. He fired a beam of energy at her as she scrambled for better cover.
The Nebula-Man had been concentrated on her so much for that brief moment that Wing easily tackled him, causing him to land on his face. The false stone ripped at his face as his head was driven into the ground three times. He flexed his mind momentarily. Wing flew off of him and slammed into the wall before he could compensate enough to land on his feet.
Billie Gunn rushed out, shooting at the Nebula-Man to cause enough of a distraction for Wing to recover and move out of the way. She hid her dismay as the bullets became flowers in midair. Manacles shot up from the floor and clamped around her legs, and she stumbled to the floor in a clanking of chains.
The Nebula-Man no longer smiled at the pleasure of a challenge. These people were taking all the fun out of the games. He growled in genuine fury.
Dragonmage leaped from the shadow in which he was hidden and spun through the air. His foot missed as the warrior in red moved a fraction of an inch. He landed at the end of his spin, turning into a sweep. The warrior in the demonic mask hopped the extended leg, floating in the air.
Suddenly, it became all too apparent that this was no ordinary warrior the Nebula-Man had summoned. Light raced up his body as he uttered an incantation. As he spoke the words, an expanding ball of flame rushed out at Dragonmage. He flipped over it, letting the attack go into the floor. The ball of flame kept going, blasting through any obstacles until it hit the outside wall. The outer wall collapsed as the fireball kept going into the ground of the dimension.
Dragonmage leaped into the air without hesitation, grabbing the legs of the bodyguard, and flung him into the ground. He pressed the attack, finding every punch ducked or blocked as he struck with blinding speed. No matter how fast he moved, his foe moved that much faster. Finally, the creation tired of the game and punched Dragonmage halfway across the room. He rolled when he hit the ground and lay unnaturally still.
Outside the castle, after the final soldier in the Nebula-Man’s grotesque army was defeated, the path was clear, leaving the Soldiers of Victory with a clear route to the castle. “Like I was saying, the flyers will have to help the non-flyers get up there,” Patriot said, pointing toward the castle on the mountain.
“Syl or I could carry someone, and someone could go on horseback with Justin or Brandy,” Americommando said.
“No offense, darlin’,” the Vigilante said to Knightfire who sat upon a flaming steed, “but I think I’ll ride with yer pa.”
“None taken,” Knightfire laughed.
“I can give you a lift,” Patriot said to Red Arrow. “The field I generate will make you practically weightless.”
“Well, in that case, I’m more than willing to let you carry him,” Americommando said.
“Hey, I’m not that heavy,” Red Arrow laughed.
“Enough with this idle banter,” said the Shining Knight. “Let us venture forth and rescue our friends!” With that, he took to the air, with the Vigilante sitting behind him on Winged Victory. His daughter followed.
“You heard the man,” Americommando said, firing up his boot jets and taking to the air.
“Hey, wait up!” Patriot said, rising into the air with Red Arrow. He quickly realized that, while he might be the distinguished leader of Infinity Inc., to his old friends from the Seven Soldiers of Victory he was still the Star-Spangled Kid.
As they flew up toward the castle there was a rumbling, and the ground far beneath them began to shake. Huge chunks of the earth below pried loose and flew at them.
“On your guard, Soldiers!” the Shining Knight cautioned, dodging around a flying chunk of ground.
Another chunk of ground flew toward Knightfire, but she generated a giant battering ram of flame that flew at the meteor, smashing it to bits. “The whole world has become a weapon!” she exclaimed.
Americommando and Patriot threw up a shield of maximum strength to protect their group from the chunks of rock and earth flying in their direction. As they sailed up the mountain, huge chunks pried loose and flew at them. When the chunks hit the shield, they exploded in bursts of light as they reacted to the reversed polarity and disappeared.
“The mountain is crumbling away to nothing!” Red Arrow exclaimed.
“That don’t mean nothing!” the Vigilante shouted over the quickly fading rumbling barrage from the back of Winged Victory. He pointed to the castle that was now floating in midair as the last chunk of land disappeared in a burst of light. “Look!”
“It looks like that René Magritte painting,” Patriot said. “The one with the castle on the floating rock over the ocean…”
“You mean Castle in the Pyrenees,” said the Vigilante. “Danged if it don’t.” Everyone stared at him in surprise. “What?” he said. “Just cause a fella’s a cowpoke don’t mean he ain’t got any culture!” This drew a much-needed laugh from the entire group.
As they reached the castle, they noticed the enormous hole in its side. “Looks like Danny and Billie are giving that sidewinder hell,” the Vigilante said proudly.
“That they are, friend Greg,” the Shining Knight said. “That they are.”
“The hole’s starting to close in on us!” Patriot exclaimed, pointing at the opening that was growing smaller like a rapidly healing wound.
“Well, then, we’re about to open it up again,” Americommando said, firing a round of explosives at the opening. As the explosives detonated, it quickly doubled in size. “We’ve got to be quick,” he said. “They’re not going to hold the door for us.”
Americommando, Patriot, and Red Arrow quickly flew through the opening, followed by the Shining Knight, Knightfire, and the Vigilante. As they went from one level to the next, they fired at the openings that sought to close before they could pass through.
Everything imaginable within the setting of an enemy’s castle came at them as they flew in the direction of the throne room. Rising floors and falling ceilings sought to crush them. Spikes, spears, and arrows flew in their direction. Frankenstein’s monsters, werewolves, and vampires came at them from the shadows. If there was a story with it involving a castle, it was there to meet them on the path — and they were ready for it.
As they blasted through the final wall, they suddenly found themselves in the enormous throne room. “The Nebula-Man!” Patriot said, pointing toward the enormous figure standing before the throne.
“Who else did you expect?” the shadowy, nebulous form said, spreading his arms dramatically. “Welcome to my humble abode — and, as a great man once said, welcome to your doom.”