Heroes and Friends by Femfan1

 

“Can you back up and try again, I think you missed that pothole?” The bouncy jeep ride had made She-Cat even more irritable than usual and the company she was keeping didn’t help.
“You don’t like us much, do you?”
She-Cat eyed the Lieutenant and the driver. The reports of human rights abuses had been leaking out of this tiny Pacific Rim country for months as the government cracked down on rebel forces. If archaeological evidence hadn’t been discovered on this island showing that Sekhmet had once been worshipped here, she would never have made this trip. “How much further?”
“We’re here. You know, things aren’t always what you think.” The jeep turned a bend in the winding road and the foliage covering the trail disappeared as they entered a clearing full of ramshackle huts. The villagers warily eyed their vehicle as it moved towards the center of town. An old man approached as they stopped. Ignoring the soldiers, he smiled heartily at She-Cat. “Welcome, welcome, my name’s Gregorio, it’s so good of you to come! Please, come with me, I will show you to your accommodations.”
She-Cat looked towards the soldiers for confirmation that this was her intended greeting party. Their only response was to toss her bags out of the jeep. She had just enough time to hop out herself before the vehicle turned and sped away.
She-Cat turned and smiled at the old man who had already scooped up her bags. “Nice place you got here. Tell you what, I’ll carry my bags, you lead the way.”
“Certainly, Miss She-Cat. Did you have a comfortable trip?”
“You mean other than the busted spring in the seat goosing me every time we hit a bump?”
“Oh…I’m sorry. Well, if the bed isn’t to your liking, you let me know.”
The old man swung open a door to one of the huts and ushered She-Cat inside. She found herself in what appeared to be a kitchen, surrounded by a group of people engaged in a vigorous discussion. The room went silent as she entered.
“Come, come, Miss She-Cat. You’ll be staying back here.” The old man disappeared into another room. Nodding to the gape-jawed assembly, She-Cat followed the old man into a bedroom. An open makeup case covered the dressing table and pictures of the old man with several of the people in the kitchen decorated a makeshift bureau.
“Now, Miss She-Cat, the bed is very soft and…”
“Is this your room?”
“Yes.” The old man appeared crestfallen. “It’s not nice enough?”
“I can’t stay in your room!”
“B…but why not?” Suddenly, the man’s face brightened. “Oh, no! You misunderstand. You will have the room to yourself. The woman and I will sleep in another room.”
She-Cat laughed. “No, no, no. It’s your house, you should sleep in your room on your bed. I should sleep in another room.”
“Ohhh, but the bed in the other room is…”
“Is?”
The old man shrugged. “You’d be better off sleeping on the seat of that jeep.”
“I see. Well, I still insist that you keep your bed. Show me the other room, after all, it’s only for a night or two.”
The old man showed She-Cat into another room where she dropped her bags. A quick check of the bed confirmed that he was probably right about how well she would sleep. Still, he was opening up his home to her and it would be rude to complain. “Thank you! This will be fine.”
She followed the old man back into the kitchen. It had somehow become even more crowded. “So, when do I get to see the shrine to Sekhmet?”
The expressions on the faces of those in the room ranged from confusion to amusement. The old man cleared his throat and tried to speak. “Oh…uh…yes…well…here’s the thing…uh…Sekhmet…yes…”
“Father,” a tall dark haired man in his early 20’s cut the old man off. “Tell her!”
“I’m telling, Mateo, I’m telling. Yes, Miss She-Cat. See, the thing is, the Sekhmet thing, is not exactly true.”
“It’s not true at all, dad!”
“EXCUSE ME!”
“I apologize She-Cat. My father thought if he could just get you here, you would help. Nobody actually thought you would come. That’s why we were all so surprised when you first came in the room.”
“So, there’s no archaeological evidence that Sekhmet was worshipped here?”
“No.”
“That was just a lie to get me here?”
“Yes.”
“Please, Miss She-Cat! I know it was terrible to lie to you, but I had no choice. We need your help! What other choice did I have?”
“The truth would have been an option!”
“You wouldn’t have come. You couldn’t have come if you’d known the real reason!”
“Which is?”
“You have to protect us from Colonel Joe and his men!”
“Whuh? Who?”
“Colonel Joe is the leader of the ‘rebels.’ They’re really just a gang of criminals, drugs, guns, but they’ve got everybody fooled into thinking they’re leading some popular uprising. They’ve been moving from town to town, gradually increasing the area under their control by killing anybody who stands in their way. When the government tries to help, Colonel Joe massacres one of the villages under his control and then tells the western human rights organizations that the government did it. Now the government is scared to move against him because they don’t want to risk any more bad press.”
“No, son. The government doesn’t want any more massacres.”
“Either way, we’re next in line for takeover by Colonel Joe’s forces and that’ll mean the end of this town.”
“Please, Miss She-Cat. Help us!”
She-Cat couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The media had made it sound like the rebels were freedom fighters. Could all the human rights organizations and all of the media been so easily played for fools? Come to think of it… Still, the United States official policy was to stay out of this and as a member of a government sanctioned superteam she could hardly get involved. “I can’t. You’re right. If I’d known the real reason, I wouldn’t have even been able to come here.”
“But, we can pay. I’ve saved up some money, many of us have. We could pay you?”
“First you lie to me, and now you insult me! Since when did I become a mercenary? You’re going to pay me to fight your battles for you? I’m afraid I’m going to have to go!”
Tears were streaming down the old man’s face. “Yes, yes. I apologize. I’ll arrange for your transport back to the capital immediately.”
***
“Dusty, you’ve got Proxima! Rayda, don’t let DarkFire get away!”
“We’re on it!”
“I’ve got Valkyra. Synn, see what you can do about Gorgana!”
Any observer would have told the tale of an epic battle. Separated into its’ parts, the combatants were evenly matched. Ms. Victory pounded Valkyra through the side of a building and was herself slammed through a light pole. Stardust and Proxima continued the battle they have waged across galaxies, and Rayda used her powers as a human dynamo to short circuit DarkFire’s Menta Helmet illusions. Meanwhile, Synn and Gorgana conducted a mental duel, fighting each other with mental powers that seemed to have reality spinning like a hurricane. Yes, any observer would have recounted an amazing story if there had been any observers, but the scene wasn’t only spinning because of the combatants reality influencing abilities. It looked like a hurricane because it was a hurricane.
Even as the coast was being evacuated, Ms. Victory had convened a meeting of the available Femforce members and auxiliary members. Tara was on a book signing tour in the southern hemisphere, Nightveil’s whereabouts were unknown but presumably she was studying with Azagoth, and She-Cat had gone to investigate claims of ancient Sekhmet worship on a Pacific Rim island. The natural force of the hurricane was not of concern to the Femforce, the people had been evacuated and the team would help with repairs to any property damage after the storm was spent. However, Ms. Victory knew that the abandoned coastal towns would be unprotected against any criminals powerful enough to brave the 100 m.p.h. winds and flying debris.
Femforce v FearforceIn fact, even before the storm hit, reports indicated that the FearForce had robbed several banks and private museums. In a flash, the Femforce was moving to intercept the criminals and, so, the battle was on. Surprisingly, Rayda was having the easiest time handling the elements. Using her dynamo power to create a magnetic force field around herself, she didn’t have to worry about the flying debris, and the ever present water allowed for a great electrical conductor. DarkFire quickly realized that Rayda’s electrical discharges were interrupting the signal from her Menta Helmet thus rendering it virtually useless. Sensing that she was overmatched, she retreated to the bank vault while avoiding Rayda’s blasts.
Stardust’s stellar energy seemed less effective against the Rurian weaponry utilized by Proxima. Perhaps the conditions had dampened her power. Nevertheless, she managed to hold her own as both Rurians dodged flying automobiles and spear-like shards of glass. A similar stalemate had occurred in the battle between Gorgana and Synn. Synn’s constructs and Gorgana’s monsters took turns defeating one another as their creators constantly directed their attacks to the wrong location.
Ms. Victory’s battle with Valkyra was going surprisingly well for the heroine. Her years of crimefighting had made her less reliant on sheer power and more skilled in tactical combat. She repeatedly caught her opponent from behind and delivered crushing blows which sent Valkyra sailing through the air. Certainly, she wasn’t throwing a shutout and Valkyra had managed to score some hits of her own, but having been pounded many times, Ms. Victory was clearly the fresher of the two fighters as Valkyra began to show signs of weariness.
Ms Victory v Valkyra”Heads up, Valkyra!” Ms. Victory’s uppercut sent the villain shooting across the sky. Moving in to take advantage of the situation, Ms. Victory carefully approached the crumpled criminal. Valkyra struggled to get to her feet but as she was just about to stand a shadowy blur streaked past her. When she finally stood to face the heroine, Ms. Victory was gone. Her head clearing, Valkyra scanned the area for her foe, preparing for another sneak attack, when, to her delight, she saw a shocked Ms. Victory embedded in a brick wall by a large stake truck. The bed of the truck had slammed into the bricks at waist level and Ms. Victory’s arms were pinned against the wall leaving her unable to protect herself. Quick to take advantage of the fortunate turn of events, Valkyra ran full speed at the heroine and launched herself into the air landing a two-fisted piledriver blow to the helpless heroine’s chin. Ms. Victory’s head snapped back, slamming into the brick wall and bouncing off. The woozy heroine struggled to free her arms, but Valkyra continued her assault and pounded Ms. Victory with crushing rights and lefts to the chin until the heroine’s shoulders sagged and her strength faded. Reveling in her foe’s defeat, Valkyra rushed to the street corner and dislodged a stop sign that had been blown to the ground. Returning to the truck, she sprang onto the bed and stood before the defeated heroine.
Valkyra wins?”Ha, ha, ha. Finally, I have proven my superiority. Gaze up at the one who has vanquished you, American swine! Know that it is Valkyra who has claimed the final victory!”
With an effort Ms. Victory managed to raise her head. Her eyes went wide and her jaw dropped as she beheld Valkyra poised before her. The villain’s arms were raised above her head, both hands clutching the twisted metal sign pole, as she prepared to plunge the jagged edge through Ms. Victory’s chest.
“That’s right! Fear me, Ms. Victory! Fear the one who has stopped you forever!!!”
***
She-Cat leaned back in the rickety wooden chair and put her legs up on the rails of the weathered porch. She was in a foul mood. A long uncomfortable ride out here based on a lie, being treated like some gun-for-hire, being asked to get in the middle of a “civil” war on what everybody else in the world would consider to be the wrong side, and now, waiting, amidst all this disappointment, for a ride out of here. She sipped on a sweetly flavored tea and tried to be mad at somebody. The problem was, for some reason she couldn’t understand, the only person she was mad at was herself for not being able to help. Heck, she should be mad at the old man. He had lied to her. He had tricked her into coming here out of some illusion that she was some mercenary who would come to the rescue. Maybe that was the problem. He’d gone about it in the wrong way, but his reasons were valid. He had to lie for the chance that she would help, and isn’t helping people what she did?
The sound of a jeep moving down the street interrupted her thoughts. It stopped a short distance away and three men armed with automatic weapons jumped out. Their garb was not that of the local military. They exchanged glances in her direction, but ultimately they moved away towards the middle of the village where a large crowd had gathered. She-Cat could see Gregorio addressing them, but she couldn’t hear the conversation. Her curiosity piqued, she deliberately got to her feet and moved closer. As she approached their jeep, her keen hearing picked up enough of the dialogue to establish that these were some of Colonel Joe’s men and they had come to claim the village. She-Cat leaned against the side of the jeep wondering if she should intervene in some way. The old man was trying to convince the rebels that the village wasn’t important enough for them to control. Shaking her head at the futility of his argument, She-Cat glanced down at the spring protruding from the seat of the jeep. A closer inspection also revealed bullet holes in the seat covers and dried blood. Her head swimming she could hear the Lieutenant’s voice telling her that “things aren’t always what you think.” Now she was mad at somebody beside herself.
“Hey!” She moved into the street, the late afternoon sun at her back. “Where’d you get this jeep?”
The rebels turned to face her, squinting into the sun. One of them took a few steps in her direction. “What business is it of yours?”
In the blink of his sweat-soaked eye, she was on top of him like a blur, her razor sharp nails digging into the underside of his jaw. “I’m making it my business!”
From behind him, one of his buddies offered, “Hey, hey, it’s cool! Chill out! My uncle gave me the jeep last year as a present.”
“Yeah, h.hh..his uncle g..gave it to him!”
The unmitigated gall of the lie was offensive. Pushing the rebel back towards his friends, She-Cat said, “What’s your business here?”
The third rebel finally piped up. “We’re having a private conversation with some friends.”
“You have all your ‘private conversations’ in the middle of the street in the center of town? Get out of here now and I won’t rip your lying lungs out.”
Looking at each other in surprise, but unwilling to confront their strange adversary, the rebels began to move toward the jeep.
“Uh-uh-uh, the jeep stays here! I had a chance to get to know it personally this morning and we’ve gotten rather close.”
Scowling the three rebels reluctantly trudged off into the rainforest, setting off a great cheer from the crowd. The old man joyously ran up and hugged She-Cat, thanking her for saving the town. Everyone seemed to be celebrating. Everyone but She-Cat and Mateo. Gregorio’s son just looked at her and shook his head sadly. She knew she had just taken it on herself to save this town.
***
Tara smiles for the camerasTara smiled and tried not to blink as the thousandth flash bulb went off. Another fan’s request to have his picture taken with the Jungle Girl satisfied, she sat back down and continued to autograph copies of her book for the assembled throng. For a scholarly treatise on conservation it was getting quite the reception from the masses, although she suspected the overwhelming majority had less interest in saving the rainforest than in ogling the author. If every autograph and photo didn’t raise money for the cause, she never would have agreed to do this international book signing tour. The only benefit was that in her down time she’d been able to visit some beautiful countryside. After today’s signing in Sydney, Australia, she was going to get a short tour of part of the Outback before heading to Fiji for a signing tomorrow morning and then on to the Philippines.
She finished signing another copy of her book and, once again, graciously agreed to pose for another photograph. Another smile lit up the room and another charitable contribution was logged in the ledger. Exhausted, Tara turned to her friend, Janis Lawson. “Didn’t you say She-Cat was going to be checking out an archaeological site around here somewhere?”
“Yeah, well, up closer to the Philippines, I think.”
“Maybe tomorrow after Fiji, we can drop in and surprise her?”
“Ehh, I’ve got a lot of stuff to do in the Philippines before the event there. You should go, though, she’d appreciate it if you stopped to see her.”
“Stuff to do. Yeah, right. You just think Cat doesn’t like you.”
“She doesn’t. She can be so mean sometimes!”
“I keep telling you, don’t pay attention to what she says, pay attention to what she does.”
“That’s easy for you to say, she’s nice to you.”
Laughing, Tara watched another flash of light go off in her face. “No, she’s not!”
***
She-Cat couldn’t tell if Gregorio lived in a house or a social club. It seemed the whole village was in his kitchen jabbering excitedly about how Colonel Joe’s men had been driven away. She had avoided involvement in the discussion by heading straight for the theoretical privacy of her room where she sat ponderously on perhaps the most uncomfortable bed in modern creation. The unknowing joy in the kitchen was so palpable that it was making her sick to her stomach. The people had no idea that her irresponsible actions had sealed their fate.
In another small room, She-Cat could hear Mateo speaking with one of the young ladies in the village. He was upset and she was urging him to “go in and talk to her, then!” She-Cat wasn’t sure what to think about Mateo. It was clear that he hadn’t supported his father’s idea to bring in help, but he seemed to revere the old man and she got the sense that Mateo was being torn apart by this situation. She wondered if he wasn’t a rebel sympathizer. His dismay when she drove the advance party away had been evident. Of course, he may have known what she knew, that it wasn’t the end but the beginning of the end. Still, she sensed that he resented what she’d done.
She wasn’t surprised when there was a knock on the wall outside the room and Mateo appeared in the doorway. “Can I please speak to you? I’ve been talking to my friend, May, and I think today, what you did, was a big mistake!”
“Come on in, Mateo. Take a load off.”
“That bed is…very uncomfortable, even to sit on. I think I’ll stand, if you don’t mind.”
“It’s your house. So, you came in here to tell me off for getting involved?”
“It was very foolish. Colonel Joe will be very mad and he will come with a lot of men and they will kill everybody who is a ‘problem,’ like my father!”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’ll have to figure out a way to stop that from happening.”
“You’re one person, even if you are some big-time American superhero. You can’t stop bullets. Even if you can save yourself now, you can’t save us. Even if you held him off for a week or a month, eventually you’d have to leave and the Colonel would get us.”
“It seems I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t, huh? If I had turned a blind eye this afternoon, what would that have said about the kind of things this Colonel Joe has done? What would it have said about liberty? You’re right, though, if it’s just me it won’t be enough to stop him.”
She-Cat stood and walked into the kitchen where the celebration remained lively. Her appearance brought a hush and then a crescendo of applause which died out in response to the serious expression on her face. “You shouldn’t be celebrating, you should be preparing for war. Colonel Joe will be back, tomorrow, and he’ll have an army with him. I’m not going to be enough to make him forget about this village forever. In fact, what I did today is going to guarantee that he shows up tomorrow determined to make the destruction of this village a lesson for every other village he hasn’t yet conquered. No, I’m not going to be enough because I can’t beat an army alone, because I can’t stop the men on the left from shooting all of you while I’m fighting the men on the right. The only way for this village to escape subjugation by Colonel Joe is for this village to fight for itself. I’ll help you. I’ll do what I can. You have to fight him off, you have to make it not worth his while to control this village, you have to fight for your own liberty. That means some of you will die. That means I may die. He’ll be here tomorrow. I guarantee it. I’ll stand at the front to take him on, but if you don’t stand up for yourselves, he’ll slaughter us all.
***
Valkyra’s eyes blazed as she prepared to plunge the proverbial stake through her enemy’s heart. Her scream of triumph was accompanied by simultaneous thunder and lightning signalling the end. A helpless Ms. Victory could only close her eyes and wait for the twisted steel to penetrate her breast. The mental anguish of the final moment seemed to last an eternity. Seconds passed and Ms. Victory could still feel her chest heaving with the intake of each breath. Finally, unable to bear it any longer she opened her eyes to see an unconscious Valkyra prone on the bed of the truck before her. Ms. Victory blinked disbelievingly, before nervously chuckling in relief. Just as the storm had given Valkyra an assist earlier, it had now delivered Ms. Victory from evil. The lightning strike had been drawn to the metal stop sign and the force of the electrical surge running from the pole through Valkyra’s body had knocked her cold. Ms. Victory could see her foe was still alive, but she was out like a light. Letting out a deep breath of relief, Ms. Victory summoned her strength and managed to dislodge the truck enough to free her arms. Once her arms were free, it was a simple matter to push the bed clear of her body so that she could extract herself from the brick wall and take Valkyra into custody.
With Valkyra out of the way, Ms. Victory could assist the rest of the team in dispatching their opponents. Proxima had managed to herd Stardust into a confined space and she had Dusty in her sights when Ms. Victory swooped in from behind to snatch the former Rurian general’s weapons from her hands. Taking advantage of Proxima’s surprise at Ms. Victory’s appearance, Stardust caught her with a stellar blast that left the warrior unconscious.
Rayda appeared at the entrance of the bank with Menta Helmet in hand and DarkFire in tow. The spy had decided that given the conditions, the best course of action would be unconditional surrender. After all, she who lives, lives to fight another day, and running around in the middle of a hurricane wasn’t everything her compatriots had said it would be.
Upon seeing her accomplices captured, Gorgana slipped away, leaving Synn’s constructs to finish up their battle against Gorgana’s monsters. In short time, the captured villainesses were again incarcerated in their specially constructed cells and the Femforce had returned to headquarters.
“We were very lucky to get out of this encounter without any casualties and with only Gorgana escaping.”
“Oh, come on Ms. Victory, I thought we handled ourselves pretty well. I mean, I don’t know about the rest of you but DarkFire gave in to me pretty fast.”
“Well, I was having difficulty with Proxima but Ms. Victory handled Valkyra so easily that she was able to come to my aid.”
“Yeah, every time I caught a glimpse of your battle with Valkyra while I was playing with Gorgana, you were wiping the floor with her. Valkyra never had a chance!”
A faint smile crossing her lips, Ms. Victory looked down and contemplated the unmarked skin on her chest. “Yeah, she never had a chance.”
***
Dawn’s breath was slowly lifting from the ground as the late morning sun warmed what was left of the cool night air. Through the haze, faceless numbers appeared at a treeline forming a wraithlike battalion. A mass of at least 100 men marched resolutely toward the village where the emboldened villagers waited behind their champion to receive them. The cobbled together citizens’ militia had armed themselves with whatever weapons they could find. Old pistols, knives, bows, and arrows, abounded. An audible murmur of despair could be heard when their enemy drew close enough for the rebels’ superior firepower to become evident. She-Cat could hear the whispers behind her suggesting that, perhaps, it was not too late to seek the rebels’ mercy. Her chest tightened. No matter how many times she’d taken on impossible odds, she always felt the pull of her mortality. A little fear to get the adrenalin going. She watched the rebels move inexorably toward the village, their rifles by their sides. Certainly, this was how they had cowed recalcitrant villagers in the past. The show of superior force was more than enough, why waste the bullets when surrender could be achieved without a shot and dissidents handled after total control had been established? The rebel force stopped 10 yards in front of her and the first line raised their rifles and trained them on the village. A man at the back of the troop stepped onto a tree stump and raised himself above the crowd.
“Hello, American hero! I’ve admired you for years! The savage She-Cat! I really don’t want to kill you, but if you insist on standing in my way, I’m afraid that I may have little choice. Why don’t you go home to the United States and stay out of this business which is really none of your concern?”
She-Cat stood her ground, eyeing the rebel leader intently. He was right, of course. She’d gotten involved in something that she wished she hadn’t, but under the circumstances she didn’t see that she had a choice. The village had asked for a hero to help them. They’d asked for her to help them, and the politics of this island nation aside, she knew that helping these villagers save themselves and their village was the right thing to do. She knew she was fighting on the side of right just as surely as she knew that this battle was unwinnable. She couldn’t stop automatic weapon fire from killing these villagers, and, eventually, herself. She couldn’t save this village, but she had to try. So her eyes hardened, and her jaw clenched, and with a look she signalled her answer.
“So, it’s a ‘no’ is it? Why do you protect these people? They have no honor. They’ve already forsaken you and melted into the shadows of their homes. Would you really stand alone against an army for the likes of them?!?”
She-Cat didn’t even have to turn around to verify that she was standing alone. She could feel her isolation. Only Gregorio moving closer to her provided any support. The rest of the citizens’ militia was gone, their instinct for self-preservation having overcome their desire for continued freedom. She felt the old man’s trembling hand at her side.
“Ms. She-Cat, it was wrong of me to draw you into this. This is not your village. It is not your problem. It is not your fight. He will let you leave if you go now. It would be best for you if you left.”
She-Cat moved her hand to his shoulder while never taking her eyes off the rebels. “He’d let me leave, you’re right, but he’d kill you before I was out of sight.”
“I’m a foolish old man, perhaps…”
“I can’t allow it, move behind me.” “Colonel, if I allow the slaughter of this village then I’m also complicit in the slaughter of the next. You know, I can’t do that.”
“Bah! Foolish woman! You can’t stop me! It’s not bravery but stupidity to die for no reason!”
“Maybe, but do you really want to kill an American hero? You won’t be able to pawn off my death on the government. It wouldn’t withstand the scrutiny of a real investigation and there would be repercussions. The whole world would find out about your deception. The individuals and organizations who’ve been duped by your ‘freedom fighter’ act would disappear into the night and an international force would come in and hunt you down!”
The color drained from the Colonel’s face, to be replaced by a glimpse of anger, and, finally, a smirk. “Yes, you have a point. So, we are at an impasse. I cannot kill you, but you are still one against many. I don’t have to kill you to take this village, just capture you. Men! Don’t kill her, if she dies I’ll shoot the persons responsible, but I want her subdued and brought to me! Now!!!”
“You won’t need them to bring me to you, I’ll be with you in a second!!!”
With lightning quickness She-Cat bounded forward and leaped into the massed rebels. Taken aback by the speed and ferocity of her attack, they could scarcely react as they fell by the twos and fours from a variety of slashes, punches, and kicks.
Leaping airborne she moved across the tops of their heads, knocking two rebels out by smashing their heads together as she lashed out with both legs to kick two others in the face and send them reeling backwards.
Landing on the ground in a crouch, she executed a forward roll ending with a boot to the groin and a straight right to the nose of the now doubled over soldier.
Flipping backwards to her feet, she delivered a reverse chop to the neck of one rebel and a straight kick to the gut of another.
The Colonel watched astounded as he saw his troops being mowed down by nothing less than a tidal wave. Soldiers unaccustomed to fighting an enemy without pulling a trigger receded before her. Stepping down from his perch, he moved away from his position, avoiding the current ripping through his men.
The battle raged for almost an hour as a seemingly inexhaustible She-Cat fought through an army trying to get to their elusive leader. Soldiers discarded in the first few minutes recovered only to be victimized again and again as she pressed her assault.
She-Cat fights Colonel Joe’s men
The fight continues!
Vaulting off a rebel shoulder, she scissor-kicked a pair of his friends into unconsciousness before kidney-punching him to his knees.
Using his back to launch herself into the air, she spotted the Colonel’s new position even as she wrapped her legs around the neck of another soldier and twisted him to the ground.
Moving into a crouch, she bulled forward between a new opponent’s legs and flipped him over her shoulders as she stood up just in time for her eyes to focus on a hammy fist about to smash into her face. The punch sent her reeling and she tripped over the moaning body of the soldier she had backflipped to land, blinking the cobwebs away, on her butt.
It was really the first substantial blow she had taken, but combined with the energy she had expended it was enough to turn the tide as a dozen men leapt on her to hold her down while they wildly delivered whatever blows they could. Soon she was surrounded by bruised and bleeding rebels seeking to exact some measure of revenge for their injuries even as she lashed out to deliver more punishment.
Too many blows delivered by too many attackers began to have their effect. There were just too many people to overcome and now the pain began to dominate her senses as boots and rifle butts and fists crashed into bones. The ceaseless barrage rained down upon her until all she could do was curl up and try to protect the most vital areas of her body. Finally, when she could barely see through the pain, the Colonel ordered his men to stop.
The tide turns
An ultimatum Walking up to the fallen heroine, the Colonel watched as she shakily tried to maneuver herself onto her knees. He lashed out with a kick to her jaw which sent her sprawling onto her back.
“That was a most impressive battle She-Cat. In fact, you’ve managed to decimate my force so completely that I’m not going to be able to take this village today. You have no idea how angry that makes me!”
She-Cat again tried to get to her knees, only to be driven back down onto her side by a boot to an already damaged rib. A short intake of breath through clenched teeth signalled the pain. With a toe under her collar, the Colonel rolled her over onto her back. “Grab the old man that stood with her!”
With a single step, the Colonel placed his boot squarely onto the fallen heroine’s chest and leaned over her, shifting his weight onto her body and digging his heel into her skin. Staring down at the semi-conscious She-Cat, his lips curled into an evil smile. “We’re taking the old man with us. We’ll be back tomorrow. If you’re still here, you’ll watch him die!”
His message delivered, the rebels melted back into the forest, leaving the defeated She-Cat laying spread eagle on the empty field of battle to sink into unconsciousness with the Colonel’s ultimatum ringing in her ears.

chapter two
THAT CUNNING ENEMY
Nightveil on Dark DhagorStumbling across the inhospitable terrain of Dhagor, the terrorized figure sought refuge behind a rocky outcropping. Her raven hair matted with sweat and dirt and her cyan clothing in tatters, she furtively peered around the volcanic formation seeking some sign of her pursuer. Relieved to have gained a respite, she sank back against the stone and attempted to catch her breath.
An involuntary shudder ran through Nightveil’s body. She had been summoned to Dhagor by her mentor, Azagoth, but no sign of his presence was evident on the desolate plane. Instead, she had been greeted by a dark figure who had wordlessly engaged her in mystic battle. The Sorceress, well-schooled in the dark arts, had easily been able to protect herself from the wizardry which she initially faced and soon she was able to counterattack. In stunning succession, she used a wide array of her powers to hurl bolts of occult energy at her attacker while mentally probing for some clue as to his intentions.
However, the shadowy presence was clearly a powerful sorcerer himself, for he obliterated the energy bolts with a wave of the sceptre he held in his hand and easily repelled her mental advance. Calling out a spell of enchantment, Nightveil attempted to encircle him in a magical net, but again he shattered the energy bands with a mere wave of his staff. Clearly amused by her efforts, he sent a wave of energy toward the mystic maiden which forced her back against a canyon wall. Surprised that her protection spell had been less than effective, Nightveil doubled her defense shields just as the mystic wave broke over her. Shrugging off the pounding, she created a quagmire at the feet of the mage, but with a touch of his staff he again stood on solid ground.
Consternation was evident in the face of the Sorceress Supreme as she eyed her opponent. He was garbed in loose fitting cloth, dark as pitch, which covered him from head to toe. Upon closer inspection, the folds of his clothing revealed all manner of amulets and mystic charms, several of which seemed familiar to the pupil of Azagoth.
“Sorcerer, identify yourself!”
“Is it not clear, witch? Can you not see?!?” His rumbling voice cascaded around her as he strode confidently forward.
Boxed in, Nightveil sought some clue to his identity in his face. His features were obscured by the shadows from his hood. She could only make out his eyes, which appeared to be orbs of fire surrounded by rings of lightning. Her gaze turned again to the amulets. The necklace looked much like the charm worn by the sorcerer, T’uva Ra, and she had once seen a ring like that on the finger of a witch named Saaviena. Nightveil’s blood ran cold as she pieced together the mystery.
“Ahh, I see a measure of understanding has breached your peanut of a brain. Yes, witch, I am a predator and, at present, you are my prey!”
The witch hunter conjured a giant fly swatter and brought it crashing down on the stunned sorceress. Her protective spell spared her from injury but she was bashed about nonetheless. Striking back weakly, Nightveil engineered a lightning strike from behind, but the electrical impulse was attracted to the metal sceptre and did no bodily injury. Indeed, the dark mage seemed energized by every attack even as Nightveil felt her power weakening. He laughed when she cast a spell to turn him into stone, and soaked in the occult energy before continuing his advance. As he approached, he eliminated every route of escape until he stood glaring down at her.
Nightveil v Rehtam”You don’t have much left, do you, Sorceress Supreme?” The sarcasm in his use of the appellation dripped off his tongue as he brought his staff crashing down onto her shoulder. In an instant, her protection spell had disintegrated and she was driven down onto her knees. Whirling the staff as a weapon, he twirled it around and brought the head of the sceptre up into her chin. The force of the blow lifted her back up onto her feet for the instant it took him to bring the staff of the sceptre crashing into her midsection. Doubling over, she crumpled to her knees gasping for breath. Nightveil felt icy fingers grasp her by the hair and pull her up off the ground until she was suspended in the air. A gloved hand grabbed her by the neck and slammed her back into the canyon wall. “Any last words?”
A velvet fist punched the Sorcerer in the throat causing him to release his hold, and, as she dropped to the ground, a lavender pump kicked him in the shin resulting in a howl of pain and curses. Memories of her career battling thugs as the crimefighting Blue Bulleteer flitted across her thoughts, but it would take more than fisticuffs to defeat this powerful enemy. Nightveil darted past her assailant and attempted to mystically transport herself back to her Sanctum Sanctorom in the Florida Everglades. To her shock, her power fizzled and her journey took her only to the far side of Dhagor. Again she tried to leave the mystic plane, and again she was unsuccessful. Bereft of sorcery, Nightveil had no recourse but to travel by foot in an effort to elude the hunter who, no doubt, was in pursuit.
She fled across the landscape until she finally found respite behind a volcanic formation. As she leaned back against the stone and attempted to catch her breath, an involuntary shudder ran through her body. Her mystical powers exhausted, she would stand no chance if the witch hunter should find her. He would not again overconfidently allow her the option of a physical assault. Where was Azagoth? Could he have already been defeated? Nightveil put the thought out of her mind. If Azagoth had been defeated then she stood no chance of survival. She strained to think of some course of action which would enable her to defeat the dark mage, but without her magical powers the task would be difficult, if not impossible. Of course, she sardonically noted, she hadn’t been all that successful with her powers.
Nightveil captured
The Sorceress felt something slither across her stomach. Looking down she was shocked to see a rocky tendril snaking from the formation behind her and binding her at the waist. Two stone hands appeared out of the rock and grabbed her around the arms. Her body was pulled tight against the weathered juggernaut while another stony tendril grabbed her around her neck and immobilized her head. Finally, two more hands grew from the rock and seized her ankles. The Dark Sorcerer materialized before her.
“It wasn’t very nice of you to kick me in my shin, witch!”
Trying to quell her growing fear, the Mystic Maiden demonstrated cool arrogance. “Next time, I’ll aim higher.”
Nightveil watched the Mage’s sceptre reach out and touch her on the forehead. Immediately, her thoughts were engulfed in a sea of turbulence and her body convulsed as though it were being torn apart from the inside. Quivering lips cried out for Azagoth as her mind went blank and she sank into unconsciousness.
***
“How long have you been sitting there?”
“Not long.”
“I thought you were jet-setting it in Australia.”
“Australia was yesterday. Fiji was this morning. Thought you might be bored out here in the middle of nowhere so I decided to make a little side trip. I’m glad to see you’re enjoying your little vacation.”
“Ha ha. Very funny. When did you start cracking wise?”
“I’ve been taking notes.”
“Yeah? Well, stop. It doesn’t suit you.” She-Cat shifted her position on the bed. “So, how much do you know?”
“The way I heard it from most of the villagers, you showed up out here unbidden and, against their wishes, decided to attack the great liberating force of Colonel somebody. He left you beaten, unconscious in a field, and as punishment for your actions took one of the village elders.”
“Oh. Is that what happened?”
“That’s what they said. They also said they would have left you out there, but apparently the old man’s wife got her son to bring you back here to recover from your injuries.”
“Ha…owww! Darn rib! Yeah, Mateo probably figured I was too comfortable out there laying on the ground and that I’d suffer a lot more in this bed.”
“Yeah, Mateo’s not real happy with you. He did provide a slightly more plausible account of what happened, though. He said his father tricked you into coming here to stop some evil men from destroying the village and that instead of walking away from a fool’s errand you managed to make the situation worse. Frankly, it has a ring of truth to it which makes me believe him.”
An agitated She-Cat glared at Tara. “You have no idea. Don’t come in here and tell me I screwed up. I know I screwed up! I just don’t know how I could’ve done anything differently without something else bad happening. You know, sometimes things don’t get handed to you on a silver platter!”
“Cat, don’t get mad at me cause you got your butt kicked. I won’t be your personal whipping girl because you’re mad at yourself!”
A knock interrupted the brewing argument. It was Mateo’s girlfriend, May. “Excuse me, Ms. Fremont? What are you planning on doing about Mateo’s father?”
The Jungle Girl and She-Cat stared at each other in stony silence. Finally, Tara offered, “We’ll put our heads together and come up with something. Don’t worry.”
After May had left, She-Cat muttered, “See? That’s how it starts, and the next thing you know, bam, you’re fighting 100 people all by yourself.”
“I’m not fighting anybody. This country’s civil war is none of my business.”
“Mm-hmm. Alright, Too Tall, let me tell you a story.”
For the next few minutes, She-Cat recounted the previous day’s events for the Jungle Girl. When she was finished she waited for Tara’s response.
“Sounds like you were between a rock and a hard place.”
“I still am. I can’t walk away and let the village fall to Colonel Joe’s tyranny, but I don’t want Gregorio’s blood on my hands.”
“Mmm-hmm. Well, we have until noon tomorrow to come up with a plan. Maybe a good night’s rest will make everything clear in the morning.”
“Maybe, but sleep isn’t going to come easy. By the way, where are you bunking?”
Tara came over and pressed her hands into the mattress. “Well, I was thinking maybe you’d give up the other half of this bed to a friend in need, but, on second thought, I think I’d be more comfortable finding a nice soft patch of grass on the ground outside.”
She-Cat smiled knowingly, and as Tara made her way out of the room called after her. “Just like a pampered rich kid! You just have to sleep in the lap of luxury!”
Tara laughingly shot back, “What can I say, I’m spoiled.”
As she disappeared through the doorway, the Jungle Girl barely heard She-Cat say, “Glad you decided to stop by, friend.” Tara knew better than to acknowledge the sentiment.
***
“Wow! It’s so bright and sunny, it’s hard to believe a hurricane just passed through here.”
Stardust surveyed the billions of dollars of property damage evident as far as the eye could see. “Umm, Synn? Are you going to help with cleanup or not?”
Synn smiled merrily and turned again to help Stardust repair structural damage to local buildings. Rayda was working to safely restore electrical power, while Ms. Victory did most of the heavy lifting, clearing up the tons of debris strewn across the landscape. It was not overturned vehicles, however, but Gorgana’s escape which weighed heavily on the Femforce leader’s mind. The ghoul had caused the team a lot of trouble over the years and the thought of her on the loose was not a pleasant one. Moreover, as usual, Nightveil could not be contacted which meant that Ms. Victory couldn’t even warn the Sorceress to be on the lookout for her sworn enemy nor could she count on Nightveil’s superior magic to capture Gorgana.
Synn, Stardust and Ms Victory aid in the clean upAs she righted a pickup truck and pulled it away from the shattered storefront through which it had been propelled, Ms. Victory watched Synn make wacky faces in an attempt to get Stardust to laugh. The Rurian scientist obliged her immature companion by cracking a smile before again coaxing Synn back to work. Synn’s synestrophic powers had proven very effective in battling Gorgana. Ms. Victory concluded that, in Nightveil’s absence, Synn would be the key to capturing the ghoul. If Synn could keep Gorgana mentally occupied, then the ghoul would be less able to protect herself from being knocked unconscious by an undetected physical assault. Ms. Victory could only hope that Gorgana didn’t do too much damage before the plan could be put into action. The approach of a police officer interrupted the red, white, and blue clad heroine’s thoughts.
“Excuse me, Ms. Victory? There’s a priority call for you from a General Strock?”
“Thank you, officer.” Ms. Victory had barely raised the receiver to her ear when she heard the General’s voice on the other end of the line.
“Ms. Victory, we’ve got a problem. I need all of you to report back to Femforce Headquarters immediately.”
“What’s going on?”
“That means now!”
Roberta’s curtness with her, which was highly unusual, clarified the urgency of the situation. Ms. Victory dutifully rounded up her crew and they sped back to headquarters. General Strock met them in the conference room.
“Ladies, less than an hour ago, we received an emergency transmission from Colt. There was a lot of static and it was mostly inaudible. We digitized it and took out all the static. Here’s what’s left. Listen carefully!”
“(begin transmission)….found……….warehouse by…pier. Looks like he’s waiting for someone…try to get closer…..Where’d she come from?!? I think I may have been sp……..Try to hide…No…(gunshot)…Ungh!…No! NOOOO! (end of transmission).”
***
The sun had travelled halfway in its’ arc across the daylight sky when Colonel Joe’s men moved across the field where only yesterday they had been engaged in a singular battle. As they approached the village, She-Cat strode out to meet them. The opposing forces again confronted each other.
She-Cat stood alone. Her feet shoulder-width apart. Her arms by her sides. Her fists clenched. From the safety of his rear guard, Colonel Joe ordered his men to bring him the old man.
“I warned you what would happen if you were still here, woman. His blood is on your hands!”
“We’re going to stop that from happening.”
“We?!? You and who? The same villagers who abandoned you yesterday? The only person who stood with you is about to die!”
Tara plucks Gregorio from Colonel JoeDropping down noiselessly from high in the trees, the Jungle Girl moved out into the field behind the Colonel’s unprotected rear flank. Having drawn as close as she could without being detected, she grew to a height of fifty feet tall. She-Cat motioned with her head for the Colonel to look behind him.
Turning to face a leg the size of a tree trunk, the Colonel craned his neck upward. Tara leaned over and snatched Gregorio from his grasp. Sweat streaming down his forehead, the Colonel stumbled backwards away from the Giantess.
“My friend, She-Cat, thinks we should destroy your ‘army’ and take you in chains to government officials. I’m willing to go along with that, but then you might try to create the perception that agents of the United States crushed your movement for ‘freedom.’ In the end, wiping you out might put our government on the wrong end of a public relations nightmare. So, we’ve decided not to interfere in what our government officially considers to be your nation’s civil war. Instead, we’re going to notify human rights organizations to send unbiased observers to monitor this village. I’m a big contributor, so I’m sure if you do anything out of line, the world will find out the real truth about your movement. Until observers get here, She-Cat and I are going to stick around. If anything happens to these villagers, you’ll personally answer to us. Got that?”
Having recovered his composure, Colonel Joe steamed at the unexpected turn of events. His contact in the village had not warned him of the arrival of another heroine. What was it about this village that heroes from half a world away were seemingly rushing to its defense. Still, he was not easily deterred and he knew that if he allowed himself to be turned away from taking this village he would lose the confidence of his men and fuel future displays of intransigence in other villages. Through gritted teeth, he assented to Tara’s question even as he plotted a way out of this debacle.
“Good! Then you and your men can leave. Now!”
Glaring back at the Giantess, Colonel Joe gathered his men and marched them away into the bush. She-Cat looked at Tara with a raised eyebrow. “I still think we should have kept him prisoner until the observers showed up!”
“How do you think it would look if we took the leader of another nation’s freedom fighters captive?”
“Yeah, but you don’t really think he’s gone for good, do you? Now he’s free to attack us on his terms!”
“If we can protect the village for another day, two at the most, that should be enough time for independent observers to show up. Once the organizations who’ve mistakenly given him international support are on the scene, he won’t be able to risk losing that support by wiping out the villagers.”
“That just means if he wants this village, he’s got to come after the two of us, hard and fast.”
“Yeah, the two of us against an army. I wish we could call in the team for help, but we’re not even supposed to be involved in this ourselves.”
She-Cat nudged Tara in the ribs. “You know, Too Tall, this would almost be a fair fight…if he had more men.”
***
A defeated NightveilThe Dark Mage strode to the very center of Dhagor, adorned with the cloak of darkness. Nightveil, the cloak’s owner, was folded neatly across his shoulder. The former Sorceress Supreme hung limply, her arms and legs dangling loosely with each stride. Having reached his destination, the witch hunter grabbed her wrists in one hand and slung her around to hold her up triumphantly as a sign of his victory.
“Azagoth, it’s time to come out and play!”
He received no response, save a chill wind whistling across the plain.
“Can’t you see I have your pupil, Azagoth? Is this not enough to shame your cowardly soul into facing me?”
Flinging the defeated sorceress to the ground, he strode around her body. “You can have her back if you defeat me Azagoth. I’ve taken her power, but if you face me I may spare her life.”
Like a whisper echoing through cavernous hallways, Nightveil felt the presence searching through her mind. Azagoth explored his unconscious pupil’s memories for some hint of a way to defeat the powerful force which was calling him to battle. The being, known as Rehtam Nottoc, had grown substantially in power since the last time Azagoth had been aware of his presence. Eons ago, his crusade against sorcery had posed no threat. However, Rehtam Nottoc had recently obtained the Sceptre of Valoo which drained the power of a sorcerous attack. He had used the sceptre to defeat an increasing number of mages and, with each victory, Rehtam Nottoc’s power grew. Azagoth had summoned Nightveil to Dhagor to warn her about the power of the Sceptre of Valoo, but Rehtam Nottoc had arrived on the plane before his pupil. Unable to engage the witch hunter in mystical battle, Azagoth had been forced to secret himself and hope that Nightveil was able to discover a weakness which could be exploited. Obviously, as he leafed through the jumbled file cabinet of her brain, she had been largely unsuccessful. Azagoth could discern no chink in Rehtam Nottoc’s armor against magical attack.
In her unconscious state, Nightveil heard Azagoth speaking to her. “My pupil, I have repaired the disorder in your mind and imparted to you all that I know about Rehtam Nottoc and the Sceptre of Valoo. I have also given you enough mystical power to protect yourself for a short time. Soon you will regain consciousness. You must flee this plane. It is the only hope for both of us.”
Growing impatient with Azagoth’s lack of response, Rehtam Nottoc scowled as he walked over to the fallen sorceress. Pulling her onto her knees by the back of her top, he reached into the folds of his clothing and extracted a vial of puce-colored liquid which he opened and tipped towards her parted lips. “Azagoth, you know the effect this will have on her. Do you wish it upon her to wander limbo as one of the mindless living dead for the rest of her existence?!?”
“Enough!!!”
Rehtam Nottoc let the unconscious heroine fall back into the dirt and replaced the vial in his clothing. “It’s about time! I was beginning to think you had no affection for your pupil.”
“She has served her purpose and identified your weakness, now I will exploit my advantage!”
“Ha! Your words betray themselves as mere bluster. She identified no weakness. She fell as easily as all the others. The best she could manage was to whimper for your help before I drained her of her power. If she had found a weakness would she be laying defeated in the di…eh?”
Nightveil escapesTo his surprise, Nightveil had regained consciousness and managed to crawl to her feet. Azagoth opened a dimensional hole. “Go, child!”
“No! She will not escape me!!!”
As Nightveil dove through the mystical hole, Rehtam Nottoc reached out a dark arm which extended out to stop her flight. Nightveil felt his hand snare her foot, but she twisted out of his grasp and left him clutching only her lavender pump as she hurtled through the void. Azagoth closed the dimensional hole behind her just as she heard Rehtam Nottoc scream, “Just for that, Wizard, I will bring her back and leave her lifeless corpse at your feet as a reminder to you in your last few moments of the consequences of your cowardice in refusing to face me!”
***
Tara moved through the jungle foliage effortlessly. Mateo had disappeared shortly after the day’s excitement and it was becoming increasingly clear to the heroines that he was a rebel sympathizer. Love being blind, however, May had slipped off to find him and now Tara followed the girl’s trail and hoped that she could reach her before May came to harm. In only 20 minutes, Tara emerged from the trees and jogged into a clearing near the river bank. She was immediately greeted by the sound of voices which had previously been obscured by the dense bush. It was Colonel Joe and a handful of his men, and they had May! The Jungle Girl stopped and sought to melt back into the treeline, but shouts from the rebels established that she had already been detected. Standing at the edge of the clearing, she started to assess the situation when Colonel Joe called out to her.
“Jungle Girl! What brings you to our neck of the woods?”
“I came to check on May. It looks like it’s a good thing that I did. You’ll let her go if you know what’s good for you!”
Tara heard movement in the jungle behind her. Most likely more rebels had circled around for a sneak attack. That would explain Colonel Joe’s cavalier attitude toward her presence. She gave no hint that she had heard their footfall. She had to get closer to the Colonel if she was going to be able to help May, but the rebels were well-armed and even if she escaped their bullets in a frontal attack there was no guarantee that May would be alive when she made it to the riverbank. She sensed three sets of footsteps approaching cautiously from behind and allowed a smile to play across her face. Raising her arms and then locking her fingers behind her head, she turned and acknowledged the three rifles trained on her.
Colonel Joe could scarcely conceal his glee. “I think now, Jungle Girl, that you will come quietly if you know ‘what’s good for you.’”
Tara dejectedly moved across the clearing, prodded by the gun barrels poking her in the back. As she got about 10 steps away she began to use her growing power. The optical illusion that she was just getting closer would buy her some time with Colonel Joe and the men surrounding him, but the three at her back knew immediately what was happening. With lightning quickness, Tara employed her fighting skills to send all three flying with a roundhouse kick. As she continued to grow, it only took her another step to reach Colonel Joe. The Colonel forlornly stared up at the giantess towering above him.
“Heh, heh. Y…You wanted …the girl?”
A terrified May raced over and wrapped her arms around Tara’s shins. The giant Jungle Girl looked at the rebels below.
“Now, what am I going to do with you?”
Colonel Joe responded quizzically, “Why should you do anything to us? It was never our intention to harm the girl.”
Tara felt a stabbing pain in the side of her leg and looked at May in time to see the girl finish plunging a large syringe full of liquid into the giant woman’s calf.
“You’re far too trusting, Jungle Girl. That sedative can stop an elephant, it should at least be able to slow you down. Get her men!
The rebels by Colonel Joe’s side rushed the giantess and grabbed hold of her legs. Tara easily shook them off as her size gave her an advantage in strength and leverage, but they were joined by a score of men racing out from the jungle with nets and ropes. Casting the nets over her feet, and encircling her legs in rope, they held on for dear life as Tara’s might was still too great to control. Moving carefully, so as not to trip herself up, Tara reached down to remove the netting, but one of the rebels launched himself at the back of her knee causing her leg to buckle. The Jungle Girl crashed to the ground, catching herself with her hand, and before she could recover a handful of rebels grabbed her by the wrist and forearm while others scrambled atop her legs trying to hold them down. With her free hand, she started picking rebels off her other arm, but her position on her hands and knees had made it easier for the rebels to scale her body and now two of the men had managed to reach her head and they were hanging from her hair and ears trying to pull her body down to the ground. To make matters worse, the tranquilizer was kicking in and Tara felt sluggish. A wave of dizziness washed over her and she put her free hand down to get her equilibrium. She realized the mistake immediately, as another handful of men quickly took advantage of the opportunity to grab her by that arm, as well.
The advantage of Tara’s size having been taken away by the tactical victory of bringing her to her knees, the rebels began to tug outward on her arms hoping to get her all the way down to the ground, but the giantess managed to maneuver herself closer to the riverbank and the rebels found difficult footing in the muck and mud. The score of men on her legs, however, had good leverage and were soon able to pull the weakened Jungle Girl’s knees out from under her. This position made it much more difficult for the giantess to counter the rebels efforts to subdue her. The mire of the riverbank, which had previously been to her advantage, now worked against her. She could get no handhold in the mud, and as rebels she had previously discarded returned to the fray, she now had five or six men pulling outward on every limb.
Exhausted from the struggle, and the effects of the tranquilizer, Tara could feel the river flowing under her chin. Colonel Joe waded out and stood in front of her.
“Arrogant American! If you had just minded your own business, you could have left this island alive! Now, it’s unfortunate, but your government will hear that you accidentally drowned while swimming in the unfamiliar waters of this nation.”
Grabbing the hair above her forehead, Colonel Joe pulled down seeking to dunk the Jungle Girl’s face into the river, but Tara tensed her neck muscles and, looking him in the eye with steely determination, signalled that she would not be so easily dispatched. Furious, Colonel Joe commanded every man who was not securing a limb to assist him in submerging the Jungle Girl’s head in the water. The concentrated effort of the half-dozen men not securing her limbs was required, but with rebels standing on her shoulders and pushing against the back of her head, and rebels pulling down on her hair and ears, Tara’s face was forced under the river’s surface.
The cold, running water was like a slap in the face to the drugged giantess. She felt a surge of energy as her adrenalin kicked in. Caught unaware the rebels securing her arms and legs almost lost their grips as she began to kick and squirm in an effort to free herself. On several occasions she managed to raise her face from the water and draw in a quick breath. The river was only about four feet deep near the bank and it was difficult for the men forcing her head down to control her ability to turn her head to the side and suck in air.
Still, Tara couldn’t help but feel that she had squandered her window of opportunity. Her first surge of energy had startled her attackers but now all 30 men had refocused their efforts to drown her. As she bucked and strained in an effort to shake loose her assailants, she reproached herself for never considering the possibility that May might be aligned with the rebels. It was the tiny native girl’s traitorous tranquilizer which had been the deciding factor. The Jungle Girl struggled to focus her attention on the battle, but her mind kept drifting. It seemed like yesterday that she had answered the call to join the Femforce in finding Dr. Jimenez’ lost Time Triangle. She had gone to meet the legendary heroines full of doubt regarding whether she belonged in such illustrious company, and now…
To the surprise of the rebels, the giantess slowly began to shrink. Without oxygen, her red blood cells could no longer feed her giant-sized body and Tara involuntarily began to return to normal size as her body sought to adjust to meet the demand. As she reverted to her non-giantess state, the score and more of rebels had little difficulty controlling her as she continued her efforts to wriggle free of their grip. Eventually, a hardy dozen stood waist deep in the river holding the Jungle Girl entirely under water as her arhythmic efforts to free herself slowed before her hands, straining as if clutching at the sky, finally went limp.
Tara captured
Colonel Joe checks Tara for signs of life Cautiously, the rebels in the water released their grips and watched as Tara bobbed face down in the river’s current. Grabbing a hunk of her hair, Colonel Joe lifted the Jungle Girl’s head up out of the water until she hung limply before his eyes. Then, satisfied that she would never trouble anyone again, he removed a golden bracelet from her wrist before releasing her and letting her slide back under the choppy surface to the cheers of the assembled rebels on the bank.
“Through my planning and cunning, we have toppled the Giantess! Now May will take word of this tragedy to the village. If anyone still dares to defy us, I will show you how to skin the Cat!”
Tara floats face down in the water

chapter three
TWO THINGS THAT LAST ‘TIL THE END
The rusty taste in her mouth and the throbbing in her jaw were relegated to the back of her thoughts as the Weapons Mistress rebounded from the force of yet another blow. Her tormenters chortled with delight as they tilted her slumping head up to face the light and prepared to deliver more punishment.
Colt shifted her body and tried again to squirm free of her bonds. Her wrists and ankles were bound to the arms and legs of a wooden chair, with more rope coiled around her body securing her tightly to the seat and back of sturdy mahogany. Her costume was undisturbed, save for the tension exerted on the fabric by the binding cords, and the leather of her gloves and boots inhibited the tightness of the rope and allowed her some ability to maneuver her arms and legs. However, her wriggling had not yet loosened the bonds enough for her to protect herself.
Another backhand slap crashed against her jaw and sent her head whipping backwards with a momentum that rocked the chair onto two legs. The pint-sized pistolera teetered on the brink of falling over, but a kick to the chairback by one of the thugs reversed her momentum. Licking the blood trickling from the side of her mouth, Colt hungrily eyed her gun belt which had been removed and placed on a table out of reach.
“Wishing you could get your hands on your weapons, huh? What would you do to us right now if you had a piece in your hand?”
The men all laughed as the Weapons Mistress could only grit her teeth in frustration. Pulling out his own gun, the man pressed the barrel against her forehead and pushed her head back until the weapon was pointing at the floor. “Lucky for us, you’ll never have that chance again!”
Colt and ?A shot rang out, echoing throughout the warehouse, and then another. In rapid succession shots and the echoes of shots created a cacophonous barrage of weaponfire. Colt felt the barrel of the gun slip away from her skull as the tension on her neck eased and her head rolled forward. Orienting herself, she saw the thugs lying around in pools of blood.
In the dim light of the warehouse the figure of a man approached, his features obscured in shadow. Colt found his movements vaguely familiar and, squinting, she sought to recognize her rescuer. Strangely, the terrain of his face remained always in the dark, his identity a blur. He moved behind her and began to untie her arms.
“Just another second, Val, and we’ll be together again.”
Colt couldn’t suppress a sharp intake of breath. That voice! It wasn’t possible. Her husband had been killed years ago investigating an organization called “The Pact.” Could his death have been a lie, like the one concocted about Dan Barton, the Black Commando?
“Kevin?!?”
His arms moved around her body and began to unbutton her jacket as he leaned over her shoulder and whispered, “Of course, Val. It was just a matter of time before we’d be together again.”
The words sent a chill down the redhead’s spine and her face went ashen when she felt fingers fumbling to unbutton her jacket. Her gaze transfixed by the site of rotting flesh oozing from skeletal hands to drip against her bare midriff, Colt’s eyebrows raised in horror and her lips curled in fright as she struggled to escape the grasp of the living dead.
“Come with me, Val! We’ll be together again like before.” Grabbing the struggling spy from behind by the waist, the zombie pulled her close, squeezing her tightly. Her breath escaping from her lips, Colt pulled at the arms of the inhumanly strong monster in an effort to break free, but the creature would not release his grip.
The Weapons Mistress arched her back, through excruciating pain, until she could reach her arms behind her head enough to gouge at the creature’s eyes with her thumbs. With a shriek, the zombie released her and she sprawled onto the floor gasping for air.
“What’s wrong with you, Val? Don’t you love me anymore?!?”
Colt fights off KevinColt tried to scramble across the room but the rotting corpse snagged her by the bottom of her unbuttoned jacket and pulled her back towards him. Ripping herself away, the mini-marksman dove for the table and her gunbelt. Extracting her favorite pistol, she rolled over into a seated position and faced the monster.
“Don’t make me do this, Kevin!”
“You wouldn’t shoot your husband, would you Val?” The zombie continued to move towards Colt. The heroine’s hands, and the gun they held, were shaking.
“Please don’t, Kevin!!!”
Springing at her, the creature leapt for Colt’s throat. In rapid succession she fired three times, once to the head, heart, and gut, before toppling backwards from the weight of the carcass falling on her. Distraught, Colt slid out from under the corpse of her dead husband and slumped against the table leg to rest.
Without warning, a bony hand gripped her collar and she felt herself being lifted to her feet. Twisting around, she could see a look of fury on the zombie’s face.
“I can’t believe you tried to kill me, Val! Good thing I’m already dead!”
Kicking and screaming, Colt struggled to get away, to no avail, as the zombie dragged her towards a cemetery and pulled her into the inky blackness of an empty grave.
***
Tara and MateoDarkness gave way to blurred vision and the realization that she was coughing. Then, the feeling of liquid running out of her mouth and over her lips and the hazy outline of a figure hovering above her. Remembering her predicament, her arms and legs flailed provoking a grunt from the shadow compressing her chest. Soothing words came from a familiar voice and her eyes focused for an instant on a recognizable face.
“Mateo?”
“It’s okay, they drowned you, but it’s okay now.”
“Mateo.” Tara didn’t understand, but she felt safe, and tired, as she fell asleep in his arms.
***
She-Cat listened to the villagers at Gregorio’s table debating over whether Colonel Joe would again try to take the village or whether he would forget about them and move on to a town unprotected by such a stalwart defense. With hopeful eyes they had repeatedly set forth their case that he would search for an easier town and had looked to the heroine for confirmation that they were correct. Her candid response that such an outcome was the least likely only led to more vigorous arguments intended to convince her, and themselves, that she was wrong. The din of voices went silent when the door swung open and May staggered inside.
The girl’s clothing was in tatters and tears streamed down her face. In her arms she cradled a foul smelling package wrapped in leaves. Choking back sobs, she extended it towards She-Cat.
“I…I was searching for Mateo and Colonel Joe’s men found me. They took me captive but Colonel Joe let me go so I could bring you this gift.”
She-Cat gets a messageShe-Cat took the package from May’s arms and set it on the table. Her heart filled with dread as she looked at the moist leaves. For moments she could not bring herself to unwrap the “gift.” Finally, she steeled her heart and, holding back the trembling in her fingers, she moved the leaves away to reveal a golden armband encircling a dead fish.
“I don’t understand, Ms. She-Cat. What does it mean?”
A combination of anger and anguish roared within her and feline nails gouged into the wooden table top as she tried to steady herself. “It means, Gregorio, that your Colonel Joe has seen too many movies!”
Breaking into sobs, May cried, “No, it’s true! I saw it with my own eyes. Drowned! Drowned in the river!!!”
Her heart breaking, She-Cat could barely think through the fury that was raging inside of her. The only reason Tara had been here at all was because she was a friend. It made no sense. Neither of them should have even been here. They had no stake in this town. “Drowned?”
The words seemed ludicrous as they passed She-Cat’s lips. The Jungle Girl was almost as at home in the water as she was on land. She-Cat felt sick at the thought that her friend’s last moments must have seemed such a cruel joke.
Speaking to She-Cat, but addressing the entire crowd, May composed herself and continued to deliver her message. “Colonel Joe also said to tell the villagers that all who deliver you to him will be spared.”
The room erupted in protestations that they could never do such a thing. They would not dishonor themselves with such an act of cowardice. She-Cat looked at the room and knew that in their hearts all but a few had already accepted the offer of self-preservation and it was only a question of how and when they would come at her. Matter of factly, she said, “I think you should all deliver me to Colonel Joe. Then he will spare the entire village.”
A chorus of voices rang out. “Are you sure?” “It does make sense.” “Of course, if all of us turn you over to him then we’re all in the clear.” “Yes, maybe you’re right.”
“Nonsense! I got her involved to help us protect our liberty. She and her friend have tried to help us. We can’t offer her as a sacrifice because we are too cowardly to risk our own lives for our freedom.”
“Gregorio, she is telling us that is what we should do!”
“Of course, because she knows you are cowards and will do it anyway!”
She-Cat spoke with measured resolve. “Maybe, maybe not, but it is what I want you to do.”
***
Gorgana and Iron Jaw broke away from their conversation to watch as the unconscious Colt’s flailing movements resumed. Iron Jaw surveyed Colt’s unrestrained body stretched out before him on the floor of the warehouse. “Is she waking up?”
“I told you when I brought her before you and laid her at your feet that she’s in the middle of a nightmare more tortuous than anything her conscious mind can withstand. As long as I control her thoughts, she will never be able to wake up!”
“You better be right, Gorgana. I agreed to help you defeat the Femforce because you found her spying on me and took care of her, but I prefer my hostages tied up!”
“I told you she may have managed to transmit a message before I turned her lights out. If the Femforce is on the way to her rescue, we need her like this to bait the trap!”
***
“After you and She-Cat rescued my father and humiliated Colonel Joe by making him leave, I went for a walk to calm myself down. I had the hope that maybe he would go away for good, but in my heart I knew you couldn’t humiliate a man like that and not make him an enemy for life. I was distressed that, when you left, he would take his revenge on my father and on my entire family. I was considering whether I should flee to the city when I saw you battling the rebels. I was downstream, on the other side of the river, but I was too scared to help.”
“One man wouldn’t have made a difference against thirty.”
“I was frozen with fear. Too scared to even run and get help. I didn’t want to get involved. I didn’t want to give them any reason to hurt me.”
“By the time you made it to the village and back it would have been over.”
“I thought…you’re a hero. You’ll be allright. You’ve taken out worse than these guys!”
“As part of a team, not by myself.”
“Yeah, but you’re a hero. Then I remembered how they managed to beat She-Cat and take my father captive and I started to worry for you. When they forced you to the ground, I wanted to help but I couldn’t move. I watched you fighting thirty of them by yourself and I was too much of a coward to help.”
“Mateo, if you’d tried to help me, you would have only gotten yourself killed.”
“That’s what I told myself, ‘Don’t do it. You can’t help her. You’ll only get yourself killed.’ I kept thinking, hoping, you’d get away on your own. I was hoping…and then I saw all the guys around you relaxing and Colonel Joe lifted you out of the water. All the rebels started laughing and I knew that you weren’t going to get away… That you didn’t get away. They just left you floating there. The river’s current bringing you towards me. Mocking my cowardice!”
Mateo tells Tara of her rescue Tara watched the young man castigating his own character. The reason he was reluctant for the village to face Colonel Joe and his irritation at She-Cat for getting involved became clear. Soothingly she offered, “It wasn’t a coward that fished me out of the water when you could easily have been spotted.”
“I knew I had to do something! When you floated past, I pulled you to shore and dragged you into the jungle. Out of sight. When I turned you over on your back, I was sure you were dead. I don’t know how much time had passed. It seemed like an eternity, but maybe, probably, it was only a few minutes. I tried to get the water out of your lungs. I did mouth-to-mouth. I tried to get your heart going. I thought it was hopeless but then you started coughing and you kicked me. I was very happy to be kicked.”
“I’m happy to have done the kicking!”
“When you went to sleep, I brought you here. I thought the river area wouldn’t be safe. This is an old temple. No one ever comes here.”
“Mateo?”
“Yes?”
“Thank you!”
***
Ms. Victory, Stardust, and Synn flew south. General Strock had informed them that Colt had last been seen in Pompano Beach, Florida. The trio converged on the warehouse district near the pier.
“Synn, take the buildings to the left, Stardust to the right. I’ll get the ones in the middle. If you spot anything send up a signal for the rest of us and wait for backup. We don’t know who we’re up against, so be careful!”
Ms. Victory watched her teammates head off to their respective buildings and then she began searching her section of warehouses. After a few minutes a stellar flare lit the sky. Ms. Victory raced over towards Stardust.
“The building appears to be empty…except for Colt. If you look through this window, you can see she’s alone in the middle of the floor. It looks like they cleared out and left her behind. She’s not even tied up!”
“Hey guys, didja find her? Is she okay?”
“Stardust found her. We…”
Synn peered through the upper floor window. “Why doesn’t she get up? She’s moving around.”
“She appears to be having some kind of seizure, Synn. Stardust, check the building’s perimeter again. Synn cover me while I check on Colt.”
Synn watched Ms. Victory slide through an open window and swoop down to kneel beside the Weapons Mistress. Colt’s eyes had rolled back into her head and drool was running down her chin. Ms. Victory tried to wake the fallen crimefighter as Synn called down from above.
“What’s the matter with her? Is she going to be okay?”
Ms. Victory was about to answer when she heard a whistling sound coming from a nearby building. “Watch out, Synn! Something’s incoming!”
Synn turned toward the sound behind her just in time to see the bazooka shell streaking at her. Her mental command to create a giant baseball glove was only half-formed when the shell rocketed into her construct and exploded just a few feet away. The concussive effect blew the startled heroine through the window.
Moving quickly, Ms. Victory sailed up past shattering glass to catch her falling comrade. The doe-eyed blonde was out cold. Ms. Victory continued climbing out of the warehouse and visually retraced the trajectory of the shell. The Femforce leader saw Iron Jaw hiding near the window of a nearby building. Unable to counterattack while holding the unprotected Synn in her arms, Ms. Victory flew back into the warehouse. Alighting, she carefully laid Synn on the floor near Colt. The Weapons Mistress appeared to need prompt medical attention. Quelling the voice inside of her that demanded swift retribution, the Femforce leader determined that the proper course of action would be to get the fallen heroines to a doctor. After Synn and Colt were safe, Iron Jaw could be brought to justice.
“You monster! What have you done to Ms. Victory!”
The Femforce leader felt the impact of a stellar blast in her back as her body was propelled across the room. As she stumbled to her feet and turned to face her attacker, another blast struck her in the chest, sending her flying head over heels until she slammed into a steel girder, her nearly invulnerable body buckling the building support even as she twisted around the metal and crumpled to the floor.
Holding up a hand, she cried out, “Stardust?!? What are you doing!?!”
Stardust saw Gorgana rise to her feet. “You’re surprisingly resilient, ghoul, but if you continue to attack I will blast you into space!”
Standing invisibly behind the Rurian scientist, Gorgana stifled a laugh. Her plan was working. Iron Jaw had taken Synn and her reality altering abilities out of the game. Now, with no one to challenge Gorgana’s own magical powers, her illusions enabled her to use Stardust as the perfect instrument to defeat Ms. Victory.
The Rurian was convinced that Ms. Victory was Gorgana and that Synn was a broken and bloodied Ms. Victory. Furious at the sight, she was holding nothing back and each blast was unerringly finding the mark. Gorgana inwardly chortled at the sight of Ms. Victory being pounded into oblivion by her own teammate as the Femforce leader at first would not, and then could not, fight back. Once Ms. Victory was kaput, it would be a simple matter for Gorgana to strike a treacherous blow against Stardust from behind. Then all three Femforcers would join Colt in a neverending nightmare.
***
Determined to bring the villain responsible for killing her mortal self to justice, Firebeam had followed Iron Jaw’s trail of evil all over the State of Florida. Now she slipped through the closed warehouse doors and found herself in the midst of a shocking scene. Her erstwhile allies, the Femforce, seemingly littered the warehouse floor. Synn and the masked spy she knew as Colt were out cold and Ms. Victory barely clung to consciousness as she pleaded with her attacker to stop. Unimaginably, it was another Femforce team member who was doling out the damage.
Firebeam moved to stop Stardust when she felt the cold chill of evil at the Rurian’s back. Sensing a malevolent presence controlling Stardust, Firebeam embraced the cold, warming it with her flames. Screeching, Gorgana’s only thought was to escape the inferno surrounding her.
Stardust saw Gorgana transform into a battered Ms. Victory. “Ehh? The Ghoul’s aspect changes!?! What trickery is she up to now?”
A shaken Ms. Victory realized that Stardust’s attack had momentarily stopped. “Dr. Mara, behind you!”
Stardust turned to see Gorgana darting through a wall of flames and the Rurian unleashed a stellar blast at the ghoul. The distracted Gorgana never saw the blow coming and, in an instant, she plummeted from vainglorious victory to darkest defeat.
“Hold it right there, Stardust! Don’t make another move!”
“It’s okay, Firebeam. Stardust’s still on our side.”
“If you say so, Ms. Victory, but it sure doesn’t look that way from here.”
“Gorgana created an illusion, Dusty thought I was the ghoul.”
“Indeed, I did! I’m so sorry! Even at the end, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing until you addressed me so personally.”
Ms. Victory got to her feet and began the task of waking the unconscious Synn and Colt. “Firebeam, how did you know Gorgana was here?”
“I didn’t. I followed Iron Jaw’s trail to this building. When I entered I saw Stardust attacking you. I was about to stop her when I felt the cold presence of an evil entity. I didn’t know what was going on, but I figured Stardust wouldn’t normally attack you so I went after what had to be the source of her actions.”
“Owww! My head hurts and my ears are ringing! Hey! What’s Firebeam doing here?”
“I followed Iron Jaw’s trail of evil to this building. I know he’s been here.”
“Iron Jaw?!? I bet he’s the one that tried to blow me up!!!”
Ms. Victory helped Synn to her feet. “It’s a good bet. I saw him hiding nearby. He and Gorgana set a trap for us that almost worked.”
“If he’s nearby the fresh trail will be easy for me to follow. Let’s go!”
“Firebeam, as much as I hate to say this, capturing Iron Jaw’s going to have to wait. Synn, might have a concussion and Colt’s in a state of shock. Plus, we need to get Gorgana into a stasis cell before she regains consciousness. Why don’t you and Synn get Colt back to Femforce Headquarters so she can receive medical attention while Dusty and I make sure Gorgana is safe behind bars.”
***
“Ms. Victory, there you are! Is the situation with Gorgana resolved?”
“Yes, General. All of the Fearforce are now in custody, but Firebeam wants to bring in Iron Jaw.”
“That’s who Colt was after, as well.”
“How is Colt?” Ms. Victory’s voice was hopeful, but uncertain.
“The doctors think she’ll be okay. Physically, she’s unharmed. Emotionally, Gorgana really got to her. She’s going to need some time to recover, but, knowing her the way I do, I’m confident she’ll be fine.”
Ms. Victory knitted her brow. Something was bothering her about their recent encounter with Gorgana but she couldn’t figure it out. The thought that something was wrong nagged at the back of her mind. “How about Synn?”
“The doctors say she might have a slight concussion, although I don’t know how they can tell.”
“Well, I guess Stardust, Firebeam, and I will be enough to capture Iron Jaw.”
“I’m confident the three of you would be successful, but something else has a higher priority.”
“A higher priority than Iron Jaw?!?”
“While you were down in Pompano Beach, I got a briefing from Washington, D.C. The CIA and State are furious. Their operatives are reporting that Tara and She-Cat are compromising our foreign policy. I don’t know all the details. Apparently I didn’t ‘need to know’ that information. Buncha jerks. What I do know is that it has something to do with that island She-Cat was planning on visiting. Take Synn and Stardust and find out what She-Cat and Tara are doing over there. Rayda and Firebeam will have to hold down the fort here while you’re gone. If something comes up and you can’t make it back in time, we’ll call in some favors from the Vault heroes and heroines.”
***
Colonel Joe laughed as he walked into the village. She-Cat lay in the center of town, her wrists bound behind her back and her ankles tied together. The mass of villagers stood behind her.
“I see you got my message. I’m glad so many of you were smart enough to do the right thing and save yourselves. I will be true to my word and spare your lives. You have one hour to leave this village.” As the townspeople dispersed to collect their belongings and flee, Colonel Joe directed several of his men to check the heroine’s bonds. A thorough inspection confirmed that the knots were secure.
Colonel Joe strode up to the dejected heroine. “What hurts more? The treachery of those you sought to protect or …”
Rolling up onto her knees, She-Cat tucked her feet under her and sprang forward. She caught the surprised Colonel in the jaw with the top of her head and sent him flying backwards into his men. Maintaining her feet, she hopped forward and then launched herself to deliver a two-footed kick to his throat.
As he fell to the ground, she landed on his chest and, swiveling her body around, rammed her knees into his neck. His men were too stunned to help him. The Colonel’s face quickly turned a purplish-red and his eyes bugged out of their sockets. Her razor-sharp nails had already frayed the rope around her wrists and she almost had her hands free when she was tackled from behind and forced away from her prey.
Shocked, She-Cat saw that it was May who had come to the Colonel’s defense. As the young girl jumped up and scrambled away from her to the protection of the soldiers, She-Cat felt the rifle barrels trained on her body and heard the click as safeties were turned off. Coughing and gasping for air, Colonel Joe scrambled to his feet and put some distance between them.
“Heh, heh. I guess you didn’t like my ‘gift?’ I thought cats liked fish?”
She-Cat glowered at the Colonel as she finished severing the ropes around her wrists. “You should remember that the guy who sent that message in the movie didn’t live to see the final reel.”
“That was in the movies. In this jungle, automatic weapons fire will tear your body into pieces before you can make up half the distance between us. In this jungle, the heroes lose! You lose! Just like ‘Giant’ Tara!!! Before this day is out I will look into your eyes and there will be nothing but darkness.”
She-Cat smirked. “Darkness, huh?”
The heroine’s suddenly smug attitude irritated Colonel Joe. Wasn’t she afraid of death? Why, even his own men were looking at him in fear. How could she not be afraid? He could feel the day grow cold, as if in preparation for her death. The sun had suddenly clouded over and he now stood in shadow as a large raindrop fell on his shoulder. Several of his men were white as sheets as they fearfully melted off into the jungle and scattered in every direction. With a sense of unease, the Colonel realized that those of his men who remained were looking not at him, but behind him. His heartbeat increasing, he slowly turned around.
“Oh, are you in for a world of hurt!” The Jungle Girl towered over Colonel Joe, water dripping from her hair and clothing onto her would-be assassin.
“But, I killed you?!? You’re dead! Your eyes were dead!!!”
“Yet, here I am!!”
“Don’t come near me! If you touch me, my men will shoot She-Cat!”
“It sounds like you just threatened the life of a member of my team.” Landing next to She-Cat, Ms. Victory addressed Colonel Joe. “I don’t think I like you very much.”
She-Cat’s nails ripped through the rope at her ankles and she climbed to her feet as Stardust and Synn alighted nearby. “What’re you guys doing here?”
“General Strock sent us to check on you two. You want to tell me why this guy’s trying to kill you?”
Nightveil plummets to earth”This guy’s a thug masquerading as a freedom fighter. The people of this village are trying to avoid getting slaughtered or pushed out of their homes and we…uh…we sort of got involved. Now listen! Before you jump our case, if anyone’s to blame for this it’s me. The Jolly Green Jungle Giant over there tried to keep this from turning into an international inci….eh?”
A dimensional rift opened in the sky above the village and the disshevled form of a twisting Nightveil plummeted to earth landing in a heap on the ground near Ms. Victory’s feet. The Femforce leader dropped to a knee to attend to her fallen comrade. The Sorceress grabbed Ms. Victory’s hand and squeezed tightly. Her voice weak, the mystic maiden drew Ms. Victory near. “Joan, the sceptre. The sceptre. I can only protect you for a short time.”
The effort having exhausted her, Nightveil slumped back onto the ground. In the moments it had taken the Sorceress to speak, the sky had darkened and storm clouds had appeared above. An apparition with eyes of fire and lightning streaked towards earth. The sight of the fearsome entity caused the remainder of Colonel Joe’s men to scatter, fleeing in several directions from the otherworldly sights.
“Tara! Watch out behind you!”
At Synn’s warning, the Jungle Girl leapt to the side, tucking and rolling, as a bolt of fire pierced the air where she had stood and crashed into the ground in front of Colonel Joe. Abandoned by his men, and in the middle of a confrontation beyond his understanding, the rebel leader fled, cowering, into a nearby ditch.
Tara takes on RehtamCatching herself against a stand of trees, the Giantess reversed direction and sailed toward the dark figure swooping past her. Rehtam Nottoc felt sinewy arms wrapping around his oversized visage. Casting a minimization spell against his attacker, he was surprised to find that it had less than the desired effect. Although the Giantess became dizzy and a little nauseous, she retained her size. Nevertheless, he was able to break free of her grasp.
“Fool Witch! You should worry about saving yourself instead of wasting the little power you have protecting these insignificant insects! What protection will they have when your defenseless body is torn asunder!”
A ball of mystical energy shot from Rehtam Nottoc’s fingers and hurtled toward the semi-conscious sorceress. Sensing that Nightveil had left herself completely unprotected in order to shield them, Ms. Victory dove on top of Nightveil to protect her from what was surely going to be a killing blow.
“Hey! You shouldn’t have ought to done that!” Synestrophically turning herself into a giant equal to the dark figure in size, Synn walloped Rehtam Nottoc with a right cross to the face. Pain seared the mage’s mind as blood began to pour from his nostril.
“What manner of magic is this that it hasn’t been absorbed?!?”
Grabbing Nightveil’s cape from the dark mage’s shoulders, Synn said, “This doesn’t belong to you.”
She-Cat jumped into the fray, ripping into the dark mage’s shin with razor-sharp fingernails. Yelping in pain, Rehtam Nottoc kicked the heroine away only to have her land on her feet and bound back onto his leg. Focusing through his agony, the sorcerer called on his mystic lightning. Nightveil’s ability to protect the team diminishing with each magical attack, the strike battered She-Cat and caused her to lose her grip. As she slipped off Rehtam Nottoc’s leg, the Sorcerer caught her in her already damaged ribs with a punt that sent her flying into a nearby ditch. She-Cat takes on Rehtam
She-Cat saved by Mateo Clutching in agony at her broken ribs, She-Cat rolled uncontrollably down and across the rocky stream bed of the dry creek. Colonel Joe watched She-Cat tumble to a writhing stop. His hatred for the heroine who had caused him to lose his army overpowering his fright, the rebel leader removed a long knife from his boot and lunged at the unaware heroine preparing to plunge the dagger between her shoulder blades.
“Nooooooo!”
Mateo, who had been watching the battle with Rehtam Nottoc from a safe distance, dove into the ditch without thinking and intercepted the blow intended for She-Cat. Alerted by his cry, She-Cat turned just as Colonel Joe drove Mateo down on top of her. Realizing that his assassination attempt had been foiled, the rebel leader turned and ran while a shocked She-Cat stared at the hilt of the knife sticking from Mateo’s shoulder.
She-Cat looked to the rest of the team for help in assisting Mateo, but they were all busy dodging Rehtam Nottoc’s mystical blasts. Synn had managed to return Nightveil’s cape to the fallen sorceress, covering her with it in the hope that it would repel any attempt to injure its’ owner. Tara was again grappling with the evil magician while Stardust maneuvered around looking for a clear shot which would not injure her teammate. The dark mage once again used his minimization spell, but this time it was effective as the dizzying effect made Tara unable to maintain her focus and she returned to her normal size.
Rehtam is defeatedThe taste of blood in his mouth led Rehtam Nottoc to the realization that Nightveil had found his weakness. As long as he had the Sceptre of Valoo he could not be harmed by magical attack. However, a physical attack, such as her kick on Dhagor, could cause real injury. Desperate to reap the full effect of his magic, the dark mage knew that he had to eliminate the witch responsible for protecting the women assailing him. Calling upon his full assortment of sorcery, Rehtam Nottoc fired dozens of mystic bolts, balls of fire, and lightning strikes at the defenseless Nightveil with each finding its’ mark. Her surprising ability to withstand his assault infuriated him and he redoubled his efforts until the air between himself and Nightveil was filled with mystical energy.
Confused, the Dark Magician looked around to see that his aspect was no longer greater than that of those around him. To his amazement, Nightveil weakly lifted herself into a seated position, her cloak of darkness covering her lap. Raising an eyebrow, she drew the Sceptre of Valoo from beneath her cloak. “Missing something?”
For the first time, Rehtam Nottoc realized that he did not hold the Sceptre. “How?!?”
Ms. Victory smiled. “When Synn hit you, your grip relaxed. Enhanced speed, enhanced strength, it wasn’t hard to snatch it from you. Synn was bright enough to give you another one of her own construction so it wouldn’t be missed. I guess, when she saw me take it, she figured it was important to you.”
“Stardust, would you mind?”
“Not a problem, Nightveil!”
At a fraction of full force, the stellar blast delivered by the Rurian was sufficient to incapacitate the magician. Nightveil approached the fallen mage and touched the sceptre to his forehead, drawing out the remainder of his magic.
“Colonel!”
Tara and She Cat deal with Colonel JoeThe team turned to see May swinging a jeep around as Colonel Joe hurried to make an escape. She-Cat and Tara sped to catch him as the others looked on. Colonel Joe caught up to the moving vehicle as May slowed and jumped into the passenger side seat. With a howl of pain brought on by contact with the sharp metal of a busted spring, he popped into the air and tumbled out onto the dusty roadside while May continued to flee the village she had betrayed. As he clutched at the seat of his pants and scrambled to his feet, the Colonel raised his eyes just in time to see the faces of She-Cat and Tara before their respective right and left fists slammed into his jaw and left him flat on his back seeing stars.
“Man, that felt good!”
“All I know is it made every one of these broken ribs seem worth it.”
“So what do we do with him now?”
A bandaged Mateo stumbled towards them. “I think…that we’ll take it from here.”
“Don’t sink to his level, Mateo.”
“No, I promise. His men have fled. He has no power anymore. We will hold him until the human rights observers come. You have my word.”
Leaning over, both heroines kissed a suddenly blushing Mateo on the cheek and simultaneously said, “My hero!”
“Saved my life, you know?”
“Mine, too!”
“I think we need some time off from our free time!”
The end!”Still have that hotel room in Manilla?”
“For another day.”
“Four-star hotel?”
“Soft bed!”
She-Cat smiled. “You’re still a spoiled rich girl, you know?”
“I’m aware of that, yes.”
“Just so we’re clear.”
Ms. Victory shook her head in disbelief. Tara kissing something other than a jungle cat? She-Cat being upbeat? She watched the two walking together, Tara helping support the injured She-Cat and She-Cat letting her. “Who are those people and what have they done to my teammates?”
Nightveil laughed. “Sometimes it’s good to know there are people in this world you can count on.”
The Femforce leader watched the bedraggled Sorceress approach her. “You talking about them, or you? You took a big chance leaving yourself unprotected like that so that you could spread what was left of your power out to the five of us. He was out to kill you.”
Nightveil looked at her tattered and torn costume, with the blue stocking of one foot still shoeless. “I was sure he would…until I saw my friends. Then I never gave it a second thought.”
With a wave of her hand, Nightveil appeared once again in full, undamaged, costume. “Now, let me consign this fool to limbo for all eternity and we can go home.”
Ms. Victory sighed. “Did I mention Iron Jaw’s on the loose again?”
THE END