Unpleasant surprises are the order of the evening.
Dark Angel, having flown himself and Malachi over the fence, grips the flywheel in both chalky-white hands and turns it. The device resists, but only for a few seconds. A snap is audible from the other side of the door. The door now opens easily enough, revealing a shaft, about four feet in diameter, complete with ladder, leading down about 20 feet to what is likely a well-lit hallway. The mangled remnants of a heavy, but common, padlock are visible on the floor below.
Union's attempt to open the flywheel magnetically was thwarted by the combination of the heavy lock and steel bar holding the mechanism in place from the opposite side. Surely, had Union been able to see the lock, he would have been able to spring it by manipulating its tumblers. The strength of the Union's magnetic powers not being sufficient to force the flywheel, the superhumanly strong Dark Angel lent a hand.
The door now opens easily enough, revealing a shaft, about four feet in diameter, complete with ladder, leading down about 20 feet to what is likely a well-lit hallway. The mangled remnants of a heavy, but common, padlock are visible on the floor below.
Union suppresses a shrug of annoyance _Well, so much for the element of surprise_ and looks over the locking mechanism for a few seconds while the others move into the bunker. Then he follows his comrades in, taking up the rear as they start exploring.
"Gentlemen, unless I miss my guess, that lock can only be opened or closed from the inside. Which means that there's definitely someone down here. Be on your guard." Unions monotone whisper carries a few feet, and no more, but even still it makes the bunker feel more confining and dangerous.
And so, on their guard, the trio descend the shaft into the bunker, finding themselves in a 10 by 10 foot, unfurnished room. A hallway leads out of the room, traveling about fifteen feet before making a 90 degree turn to the right.
"Wonder how thing's goin at the rally?" a deep voice comes from around the corner.
Someone smacks their lips.
"I guess so," another voice, rougher than the first replies. "Damn, this is borin."
"Take not the name of your Lord in vain, mortal," Dark Angel spoke in his rough-toned, booming voice. His wings unfurled, he held arms held menacingly in front of him, shielding the others behind him, "Come, mortal, vent your rage upon me...perhaps I might prove more sport!" Ichor escaped from his mouth when he spoke, much like steam might in the cold.
_Rally?_ Union thinks as Dark Angel turns the corner and confronts the guards. _What rally?_
As Dark Angel steps into the room, Union's augmented reflexes are already propelling him in a low roll under his left wing, hoping that Malachi would follow him into the room to the right. Once in the room, Union stays in a crouch, his armor sparking off dancing electrical charges as searches for the opposition, _First order of business is to make sure they don't raise an alarm. Then disarm and disable them._
Seeing Union's plan, Malachi slides into the room under Dark Angel's right.
Very quickly, the heroic trio gets the unavoidable feeling that something is amiss. Around the bend, in the smallish chamber from where the voices came, there are no people. Union spots a small, closed-circuit TV camera in a corner about fifteen feet away. Underneath it is a speaker. There are no exits from the room, nor are there any furnishings.
_This cannot be good,_ Union mutter to himself. _Caught flat footed again._
Eric sees the potential for death on both sides and isn't overly concerned, but one factor causes him to decide to bring out Ghost Rider. Janet is in the crowd and both sides look willing to harm anyone in their path. Ducking beneath a stand, he summons the power of the Ghost Rider, along with his Hellbike!
The bike roars from beneath the stands and a man dressed in black leather who's head is a flaming skull is driving, "Fools! All of you shall face the Spirit of Vengence, the Ghost Rider!", the voice is deep and inhuman and spinning in the creature's hand is a long black metal chain.
Janet instinctively shields her face with her hands as spray of earth from the burning truck falls rains down. She looks up behind her, and sees the five animal totems, then down to the platform with the three 'deputies'. _This could get messy, and I don't know who the good guys are, but I know the innocents._ Janet quickly moves to an out of the way place, and summons her will, focusing and compressing the expanse of outdoor air into a half pipe shield over the majority of the crowd. _Winds of Destiny, Change!_ The invisible shield will hopefully protect them long enough to get out of the way of the violence about to erupt.
There is an odd whooshing sound as the air coalesces, sending paper and dirt flying, solidifying into an invisible tunnelnoticeable only by the debris trapped within it here and therethat runs left and right over the audience in the stands.
Loud voices spring unspoken from either end of the pipe, near the exits. "Follow me, This way, Hurry! Run!"
The crowd, nearly in a blind panic, begins to respond. Several people in the crowd, most of them men but a few women as well, take charge, yelling for calm, yelling to take care of the safety of the children. Slowly, the audience begins to jostle its way towards the exits.
Wasp and Fasces are the only people who take much notice of Ghost Rider's sudden arrival. The gate crashers charge forward, apparently unimpressed.
Lion, Cheetah, and Zebra race down the aisles, the latter two moving with inhuman speed. Lion yells something, but not in English, and the trio leap up and forward, landing on top of Duststorm's air tunnel to race towards the stage. Fasces points and Warmonger leaps forward, flying nearly fifty feet, to land in a crouch in the path of the uncoming costumed people.
Wasp goes airborne as Fasces races towards the flying platform the racist vigilantes arrived on. Vulture too goes airborne, heading straight towards Wasp, while Hippo lumbers down the aisle, picking up speed as he goes, to crash straight through Duststorm's air tunnel. In another instant, he will be barreling through the knot of spectators desperately trying to escape the scene.
As Lion, Cheetah, and Zebra race in Warmonger's direction, Ghost Rider whirls his hellchains about and lets fly towards the apeish brute.
"Duck!" yells Fasces, and instantly Warmonger complies, hunching under the rattling hellchains.
About that same time, in the stands, as scores of people scramble for safety:
Janet watches in horror as the lumbering hippo-man begins to pick up speed. _From the look of him, I don't think air wall can stop him._ She again reaches out with her will. She times her effort so that just as the hippo reaches the bottom of the stairs, but before he crashes into the protective air wall, a section of earth peels up in front of the hippo forming at once, both a hole and a wall. _I hope he doesn't corner well._ Janet thinks as she lifts the earth, and still tries to maintain the air shield. If the hippo ends up in the pit, she will let all 50,000 pounds of earth back down on top of him.
Duststorm's attack turns out to be not quite as effective as she'd hoped. While Hippo does indeed stumble forward into the pit, and she does indeed raise and drop the earth on top of him, Duststorm has only a few seconds to celebrate before the ground begins to tremble. Incredulous, Janet Van Dyne watches the filled pit as the earth within it starts to sink towards the center. Amazingly, Hippo is apparently digging his way free!
Warmonger, however, has less fortune. Having ducked Ghost Rider's attack, he leaves himself open to Zebra and Cheetah, the two apparent speedsters among the mysterious menagerie. Both strike him glancing blows, rocking Warmonger first left, then right. Lion keeps on moving, past his two female cohorts, and towards Fasces, who has just leapt onto the flying platform.
"Goin' somewhere, Nazi!" Lion roars as he makes a prodigious leap. Fasces touches a button on his silvery belt, and Lion rebounds from a nigh-invisible force field that suddenly envelopes Fasces. Lion rolls with the fall, and comes up on his feet, momentarily confused about what to do.
Overhead, Vulture swoops, pivots, and slams feet first into the Wasp, sending him spiraling out of control through the backdrop of the stage, wood splintering under the impact. Vulture completes a loop and dives after the Wasp, who is at temporarily concealed from sight behind the stage.
Warmonger retaliates, swinging a thick arm at Cheetah, but the much smaller, much more agile woman easily ducks under the clumsy but obviously powerful blow. Also, though Ghost Rider isn't sure, he could swear that Warmonger just got a little bit bigger.
As the flying platform, bearing the force field protected Fasces, hovers to a stable ten foot altitude, the villain onboard turns towards Lion. From the fasces breastplate on his costume fires a bolt of greenish electricity. Lion leaps sideways, handily dodging the beam, which strikes the ground but leaves no sign of its impact.
Seeing the hippo begin to free himself, Janet thinks _I should have know he wouldn't stay there for long. I just hope it takes him long enough to let everyone else escape. This should show him down a bit._ Janet begins recirculating the dirt, filling it in hopefully faster than the hippo can dig it out.
Duststorm's quick thinking seems to be slowing down Hippo from digging himself free. Looking about, she estimates that it will just a few more seconds until everyone has cleared out of the stands.
Seeing his hellchains missed don't bother the Ghost Rider much, he has all the time in the world, "Pathetic little men! You are all judged and found guilty! The Ghost Rider is the Spirit of Vengence and he shall carry out the sentence!" The hellchains spin again, attempting to snag anyone close by.
Cheetah and Zebra briefly direct their attention towards Ghost Rider, as if they've noticed him for the first time. They do not, however, pause for long.
"Keep on this one!" Zebra yells, and the two woman leap at Warmonger, still moving with blinding speed.
Cheetah goes high as Warmonger ducks; she sails over him to land several feet behind the brute. Zebra catches Warmonger as he ducks, bringing a knee up into his head, but the man-monster only growls loudly.
And again, hellchains flash forward, snaking around Cheetah's right arm, wrapping her from elbow to shoulder.
"Hey! Damn it!" she cries out. "Who's side you on, man!?"
Ghost Rider laughs, "All who commit evil are the foes of the Ghost Rider!". He sends out more hellchains, intent on entangling the rest of the attackers in his area.
Nearby, Lion is distracted by Cheetah's situation, and dithers a moment too long. Again, the bolt of greenish electricity fires from Fasces's breastplate, and this time it strikes home. Lion screams, dropping to one knee. Then, amazingly, Lion grows larger, more muscular, his new mass tearing the arms, back, and thighs of his costume. His spine slumps, and he takes on a simian stance.
"Now you are more like zhe black ape, eh?" Fasces exults in a distinctly German accent.
Next, it is Zebra's turn to be distracted. She stops flat-footed, staring at Lion, and Warmonger wastes no time reaching out to engulf her headmask and allin one huge hand. She struggles vainly as Warmonger lifts her off the ground.
Overhead, Vulture dives after Wasp, who is still concealed behind the stage. Quickly, Vulture too vanishes from sight. There is a crackle of electricity, and a flash of light, followed by what sounds like wood cracking.
Duststorm, concentrating on her air tunnel and shifting the earth, is dimly aware of the battle raging on the football field. Suddenly, however, her attention is sharply focused by a mental OOF! as her air tunnel collapses all at once. Looking left and right, she quickly spots a newcomer to the melee, a large man, built like a linebacker, about twenty feet away and closing quickly, wearing a gray body stocking and a stylized African mask designed to resemble an elephant.
"I don't know why you ain't runnin, whitey," he growls. "But Tembo gonna put some fear in you just the same!"
"Wery impressive," a voice says over the speaker. "Ubermenschen come to inwestigate. I vill have to congratulate Fasces vhen I see him. His prediction vas accurate."
There is a rumbling from below, followed by the sound of concrete scraping against concrete as the walls of the chamber descend into the floor, revealing a much larger room beyond. Thick posts support the ceiling. Several doors lead out of the chamber, but to where cannot be determined. About fifty feet straight ahead, one of the doors swings open. A tall figure steps out of the shadows, and at least Union and Malachi experience the unmistakable chill of fear.
Even if he were not in full Gestapo dress uniform, all black and silver and red, the man in the doorway would still inspire terror by virtue of his horrible, crimson mask.
"Willkommen," the Red Skull says civilly, leveling a futuristic-looking, silver pistol at the stunned heroes.
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© 2000 Mark L. Chance et al