New Guardians

Issue 33 - Chicago FIRE!

Guardians_Number_33.jpg

After Lightning Bolt was abducted by Maelstrom and his Revengers (see Issue #32), the team agrees to meet the next evening to discuss what to do next.

Fortress is feeling terrible. Since she accidentally absorbed the boiling contents of two of her vials directly into her system (again, see last issue), she’s been feverish, nauseated, and generally weak. Since he’s the only one who knows her secret identity, Bantam gives her a ride home and helps her into the house, where she collapses in bed.

Back at HQ, Baron has a talk with Ernest. “Ernest, we have to upgrade our security. We can’t have people just waltzing in and breaking supervillains out.” [Vulcan and Microwave were both freed from custody last issue. — Ed.]

“Well sir, I’ve been trying to figure a way to defend against mental illusions projected directly into one’s brain. Funny thing, I’m coming up bupkis so far.”

Baron rubs his eyes. “Yes, of course, but we can at least tighten up access to the front door. Maybe a retinal scanner, tied to an alarm. So even if you’re mind controlled and let some villain in while we’re gone, we’ll be alerted. At least something slightly better than a deadbolt, yes?”

“Sure thing, I’ll get right on it.”

The next morning, Baron receives another call from Anthony Scarpelli. “You said you had some friends who could handle a certain flaming demon problem? Well, the matter has gained some urgency. Two more attacks last night, one at one of my joints, another at a warehouse on the docks.”

“Yes, we can be there this evening.”

“Good. Call me when you get close and I’ll tell you where we can meet.”

Kid Green spends much of the next day on the phone with his mother. Since her husband and her eldest son had both been taken to Stronghold, she’d been lonely and depressed.

As Lani gets to work the next day she sees workmen hauling out boxes of equipment and several computers. Her colleague from down the hall, Mark Taylor, stands outside of his lab door, dejected. “Mark, what’s going on?”
“Oh hi, Lani. They’re shutting down my project.”
“Why?”
“Funding was pulled. It was DARPA-sponsored robotics research, part of some program called SENTINEL. Something happened and the money has dried up. I’m finished.”
“What will you do?”
“I don’t know. Two years of work, gone!” Mark calms himself. “They haven’t decided if they’re going to reassign me or let me go.”
“You can work in my lab.”
“Oh sure, have you got robotic jet engines now? Want me to build a Transfomer?”
Lani just stares. “I’m sorry, Lani. I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m just…lost right now.”

A similar scene plays out at the biology labs at IUPUI. Dallas Damon arrives at his office to find an excited Felicity Hoffman, his sometime-lab parter. Hers was the experiment that went awry, causing Bantam to have to subdue a shambling mass of meat-eating flesh (see last issue…but you’ve already read that by now, haven’t you?) “Hi, Felicity. You’re in a good mood this morning.”
“Oh yes! You would think, with Dr. March screaming at me first thing about the destruction of two labs, that I’d be upset. But no!
“Dallas, you know how some of history’s greatest scientific breakthroughs have been due to accidents? Penicillin was discovered because Fleming didn’t clean his Petri dishes! I think something similar may have happened to me! My work with stimulating the growth of stem cells may have just taken a huge leap!
“Imagine, growing replacement organs, even limbs, in a matter of seconds!”
Dallas muses, “Sounds like you’re playing God.”
“What? I’m not growing clones, I’m saving lives! How many people die, every day, waiting for organ transplants? I think I can make those waiting lists obsolete! I can make rejection obsolete! It’s the dawn of a new medical age!”

Just then their department head, Dr. Keith March, bellows from the hallway. “HOFFMAN!” Felicity jumps. “Gotta go, Dallas. See you!”

After a night of vomiting and fitful sleep, Fortress spends the day in her basement lab, examining blood samples to try to figure out what’s going on. She sees her cells duplicating rapidly, but the resultant cells are different. A bit denser than normal, and more energetic.

Towards late afternoon she’s feeling a bit better, but when she attempts to draw another blood sample, the needle breaks against her skin. It was as if she had injected her serum, but she didn’t really feel the accompanying weight gain. When her serum was active she weighed around 12 tons.

She heads to HQ a bit ahead of the scheduled meeting time, so she can test herself in the team’s workout room. After beating on a practice dummy for a few minutes, the readings indicate her strength is about 40% of what it would be when she’s juiced.

Still a bit light-headed, she showers and then meets the rest of the team in the meeting room. “We need to go after Lightning Bolt.”

Bantam replies, “They teleported away from the Circle, there’s no way to tell where they went. We had tracked Doctor Liefeldt and Kid’s girlfriend ”/characters/amy-matsuzaka" class=“wiki-content-link”>Amy to a Wilmington Special Needs Center in Fort Wayne. So we can assume that’s Maelstrom’s front. But the address was a parking lot. "

[What the team doesn’t yet know is that Darlene “Dark Witch” Weiss has her investigator, Hugh O’Donohugh, still digging into it. — Ed.]

“Actually,” Baron says, “I think there’s a more pressing matter in Chicago. There’s this fiery demon-guy tearing up the city and killing people.”

“Yeah, I saw that on the news,” Kid Green snorts. “He’s hitting mob places. So what?”

“Well, there’s the killing people thing…”

“Yeah, killing mobsters. Big deal.”

Baron hesitates. “There’s also the matter of an amulet with a big glowing gem in it. I think that’s what gave this mob guy his demon powers. We’ve got to stop him and get that away from him.”

[Baron also suspects this gem is related to the Mind Gem that he wears, as he saw an inscription on the amulet in Sinhala script, the native language of Sri Lanka. — ED]

Eventually everyone decides to head to Chicago except Vapor and Bounder. “Did, um…did you say this gem was magic?” Bounder stammers. “Not a big fan of magic. A magic curse is how I ended up a big rubber ball. No thank you.”

It’s decided that Kid Green will head to Chicago under his own power (gargantuan leaps) with Bantam in his pocket. The rest – Baron, Fortress, and Torrent – will travel via the team helicopter. They summon their pilot, T.F. Washington, who preps the chopper, and soon they’re off.

On the way, Kid’s cell phone rings. It’s his mother. “Honey, I need your help right away!”
“What is it, Mom?”
“Well, the garbage disposal isn’t working. I need you to fix it.”
“I can’t, Mom, I’m busy.”
“But it’s full of salad and sausage, I can’t just leave it like this.”
“Mom, I’m on my way to Chicago.”
“Chicago! Oh no, Jake, it’s dangerous up there! It’s all over the news, the Mafia is at war!”
“Mom, I’ll be fine, I’m going up there with some friends. I’ll fix the disposal as soon as I get back.”
“But it’s full of food, it’s going to start to stink.”
“I’ll be back in a few hours, it won’t have time to stink.”

Baron calls Scarpelli as they near the city. “I’ll meet you at the airport helipad when you land.”

Sure enough, just as Kid lands and the Guardians chopper touches down, a sleek limosine pulls around a hangar and onto the tarmac. The team gathers outside the helicopter and watches one of the car’s rear windows roll down. “Jones,” says Scarpelli, indicating Baron Mind. “Get in.” He does.

“Good to see you, my friend,” the mob boss says. “If only the circumstances were more pleasant.” Scarpelli hands Baron a manila envelope. Inside is a list of addresses and several photos of a rather simple-looking middle-aged man.

“That’s ”/characters/bobby-lucese" class=“wiki-content-link”>Bobby Lucese. He’s the idiot causing all the trouble. I need you to find him and bring him to me. The addresses on that list are the joints he runs for Marcone. He’s always at one of them. I’ve sent my guys to stake ‘em out, they’ve even managed to corner him a couple of times. But each time, either he barely manages to get away or he transforms into some giant monster and wipes my guys out."

Baron recalled the name: that’s what the late Vinnie Pestano had called the flaming demon who took the amulet from him and then killed him.

“Call me when you got ‘im. I’m countin’ on you, Jones. There are also room keys in that envelope for suites at the Chicago Hilton, for you and your friends. In case this takes some time.”

Baron gets out and the limo pulls away. He relays the instructions to the team. “Hotel tickets!” Kid scoffs. “How long is this supposed to take? I’ve got a garbage disposal to fix!”

“Well, we have five places to check out. Two nightclubs, the Spybar and the Drumbar. Two strip clubs, The Blue Oyster and Vip’s Gentlemen’s Club, and a casino, The Lucky Horseshoe Club.” All of the addresses are on the near Northside, just blocks West of the Navy Pier. They decide to stay together and start at the casino.

“He wants us to bring Bobby back to him?” Bantam asks. “Yes,” Baron replies, “but we’re not going to. We’ll turn Bobby over to the police, and we’re taking the gem…I mean, the amulet…back with us.”

The LUCKY HORSESHOE CASINO

Arriving at the casino, the team enters the wide entrance as one. As they stop and grow accustomed to the flashing lights and the cacophony of bells and whoops, those gamblers near the entrance stop and turn their heads.

The Guardians make their way through the main concourse over to the bar, eliciting stares and cell phone pictures. “Hey, nice costumes!” the bartender says. “The talent usually comes in through the back, though. I didn’t know we were having impersonators tonight.”
“We’re looking for Bobby Lucese,” Baron tells the bartender.
“Who’s looking?”
“I’m Jack Jones. These are the Guardians.”
“Guys in Guardians costumes, okay. Still, if there’s some kind of problem with your contract, you’ll need to see the manager.”
“We aren’t impersonators and these aren’t costumes. These are the real Guardians. I need to talk to Bobby.”
The barkeep stares hard at each hero for a moment. “Sure thing, Jack. Just a sec.” He moves to the middle of the bar and picks up a phone.

Moments later a distinguished, white-haired gentleman approaches from the rear of the casino. “Paulie here tells me the Guardians are paying us a visit! I’m Tony Capullo, manager of the Lucky Horseshoe. Please, if you’ll accompany me to my office I’ll see what I can do for you.”

They follow him to a back office. Capullo moves behind his desk, offering seating to the team. Kid stands, of course. When Fortress goes to sit down she miscalculates and smashes right through the chair. Embarrassed, she says, “I’ll just stand right here.”

Baron gets right to the point. “We’re looking for Bobby Lucese.”

“Bobby? Well, he does stop by every now and then. Can’t say that I know where he is, but I’d be happy to get a message to him. In the meantime, why don’t you all enjoy some gaming, eh? On the house!”

Baron declines, thanks Capullo for his hospitality, and they leave. On the way out, Fortress notices out of the corner of her eye three men seated at the end of the bar. Rather dark-skinned, their features are somewhat Asian, and somewhat familiar, although she can’t quite place them. All three stare at the team as they walk toward the entrance. One of them appears to speak into his cuff.

She mentions this to Baron. “Looks like the Brotherhood is after the amulet too.”

“One joint down, four to go,” says Bantam. “You know, of course, that he’s going to be at the Blue Oyster.” “Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of,” Baron sighs. “May as well get this over with.”

The BLUE OYSTER

The bouncer greets them cheerfully, if loudly, just inside the front door, shouting over the pulsing electronic dance music. “Oh, girls, the costume contest was last week. Too bad, too, you’d have swept it! Let’s see those IDs!”

Kid says to Baron under his breath, “Um, I’m under-age.”

Baron produces an Indiana State Private Security card. “We’re the Guardians. We’re looking for Bobby Lucese.”
“Is there some kind of trouble?”
“No, we just need to talk to him.”

Baron stands perfectly still and closes his eyes. Tapping into the power of the Mind Gem, he spins time backwards in his mind’s eye. The following is what he sees, in its proper chronological order:
About 20 minutes ago, Bobby was here with two other men. He was wearing the amulet. He answered a phone call. Because of the lack of an audio component to these visions, he put to use his lipreading ability. Bobby was panicked about something, cursed Scarpelli, and said, “we have to get this thing back to Vip’s.”

Unfortunately, it takes Baron several long minutes to gather this info. “I know where he is, but we need to hurry,” he says, heading for the door. As they’re leaving, Fortress again sees three swarthy-looking men in suits sitting at the bar, staring at them. She peels away from the group and walks straight up to them. All three stand in unison as she approaches.

“Hi fellas, is there something I can help you with?” They glare at her for a second, and then they turn and walk away in different directions, fading into the crowd. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

VIP’S GENTLEMEN’S CLUB

Dance music hits the groups as they step into the front doors of Vip’s. A lone bouncer sits in a small booth by the door. As the team approaches they see the bouncer’s eyes go wide. Just then, his desk phone rings. Before he can pick it up, Baron uses his telekinesis to hold the headpiece in its cradle. The bouncer struggles to lift the phone, staring back and forth from it to the heroes.

“Is Bobby here?” Baron asks. The bouncer stammers. “Uh, well, um…let me go check.” He moves out from behind the booth and walks into the club. After a few steps, he glances over his shoulder, then breaks into a run and disappears around a corner.

Hesitating only a second, Kid Green acts. He barrels past the guard booth, through the coat check room, and smashes through the opposite wall. He finds himself in a small corridor. To his right he sees the bouncer dashing around the corner, heading straight for him. The guy comically slides to a stop and stares.

To Kid’s left, the corridor ends in a door with an EXIT sign above it. Two restroom doors stand on the right side of the corridor, on the left is a single door, flanked by two beefy gentlemen in expensive suits.

The team follows Kid. Baron tosses a few coins on the counter of the coat check room as they go by, apologizing to the startled girl watching them go by.

Kid heads down the corridor toward the two guards. Seeing him coming, they both swallow hard and draw Glocks from their holsters. “You don’t really expect those peashooters to stop me, do you? Just get out of the way so I don’t have to hurt you.”

While Kid talks, Baron spies a security camera at the end of the hallway. Again using his TK, he carefully unplugs it.

Fortress, apparently at the end of her patience, steps between Kid and the guards. Without saying a word, she reaches out and grabs both of them by the junk. Unfortunately for them, her powers are still in flux; she squeezes much harder than she intends. Both men scream like girls; one collapses against the wall and slides straight down, the other jumps back and fires his weapon wildly into the ceiling.

With the guards out of the way, she opens the door. Inside is a small office. Three men stand in front of a desk, watching a fourth straightening from a crouch in front of an open safe.

“Bobby!” Baron says. “We’ve been looking for you!”

Bobby Lucese turns to face the heroes in the doorway. The amulet hangs around his neck, its yellow jewel gleaming despite the meager light. “Carmine, take this somewhere safe.” Bobby takes the amulet off and hands it to one of the other men, who puts it on.

Baron steps into the room. “Bobby, we just need to talk.”
“I’ve had enough talk! That’s all Marcone wanted to do, talk.” Bobby spits on the floor.
“Marcone? Your boss?”
“Yeah. When my beautiful Katherine was killed by Scarpelli’s goons during a botched hit, I begged Don Marcone for revenge. Revenge that was rightfully mine! But he refused. Insisted that he would get compensation from Scarpelli by talking to him. Bah! So I decided to do it by myself. I found these Sri Lanka guys, they guaranteed me enough power to rule Chicago, if I would get Vinnie’s lucky necklace for ’em.”

Bobby draws a deep breath, and the air around him seems to shimmer. Instantly he bursts into flames and grows about two feet. Horns sprout from his forehead, his clothes burn away, and his legs twist into those of a goat. Standing before the Guardians now is a flaming horned demon. A huge scimitar sprouts from one hand, made entirely of flame.

“Well, I got their necklace, and now I get why they want it! It’s got power too! Too bad for them, I ain’t givin’ it back. I killed ‘em all last night at their warehouse on the docks. And now I guess I’m gonna have to kill you too.”

To the team, Baron says, “We can’t let him keep that gem.” Still in the hallway, Torrent prepares for the impending fight by sucking up into her watery body large chunks of debris left by Kid Green’s impromptu demolition of the wall. Bantam shrinks to his smallest size and sneaks through the doorway into the office, then uses his static cling to clamber up the wall to the ceiling.

“Boys,” Bobby says, “we’re gonna need those special toys.” While Carmine and Bobby watch, the other two men draw weird-looking pistols that appear to have multiple barrels. They both fire at the biggest target in the doorway, which is Kid Green. Greenish bolts of energy shoot out. One misses and punches a small hole in the wall, while the other strikes Kid square in the chest. He feels it.

In response, Kid whips a stalk into the room and grabs the gunman who hit him. Picking him up he swings him at the other gunman but misses; the guy is slammed through the wall and into the adjoining coat check room. The girl starts screaming as coats fly everywhere.

On the wall, Bantam fires a Bantam Bolt toward Carmine. At the same time, one of the two chains holding the light fixture above Bobby’s desk gives way. The light swings down and is destroyed as it intercepts Bantam’s attack.

Baron tries to infiltrate Bobby’s mind and do damage directly into his brain, but he finds weird mental ‘interference’ that proves somewhat difficult to get through.

Fortress zips up to Carmine and grabs at him. He twists at just the right second and she ends up with a fistful of torn necktie.

Bobby growls to Carmine, “Go!” Carmine obeys, scooting through the new hole in the wall and into the coat check room. Bantam chases him with another blast of electricity, but this time a hunk of loose plaster around the hole in the wall breaks away, and again his attack is thwarted by happenstance.

In the hallway, Torrent sees Carmine emerging from the coat check room. She spits one of her debris chunks at him. Her aim is typically precise, but this time just as it’s about to hit him, he trips over a coat. The shot sails right over his head.

Thinking a more personal approach might work better, Torrent runs and flings herself at Carmine, intending to wrap her arms and legs around him. Instead she ends up on the floor, wrapped around his jacket, as he continues to head for the front door. As she tosses the jacket aside, she sees the fleeing mobster stop in his tracks. In front of him are standing four members of the Brotherhood of Senhala, those “Indian”-looking men they’ve been seeing all evening.

“The Gem does not belong to you,” the apparent leader says. The other three pull blowdart tubes from their jacket pockets. One puffs a dart toward Carmine but it glances off the amulet (Torrent notices the end the dart seems to be faintly glowing). The other draws in a breath to shoot Carmine and accidentally inhales his dart. He stumbles backwards, choking.

MEANWHILE
Inside the office, Bobby roars. He casually swats the desk out of the way and swings his flaming sword at the closest Guardian, Fortress. She ducks it. From the doorway, Kid performs his famous Whiplash maneuver: a stalk shoots out at Bobby, grabs him, and pulls him hard toward Kid Green, who greets him with a punch. The demon is knocked flying back through the office and through the far wall, landing in a heap in the bouncer’s booth.

Bobby hauls himself to his feet and stomps like a bull. “Yer gonna pay for that!” Fire and thick black smoke belch from his nostrils and he gallops across the office. Kid sets himself; thick roots burst through his boots and plunge into the concrete floor. When Bobby slams into him at full firey-demon speed, it’s like hitting a brick wall. A shock wave rocks everyone and everything in the room.

Bantam takes the opportunity and throws a deadly electrical charge coursing over Bobby’s body, who bellows with pain and rage.

Baron, still in the office, is interested only in the Gem. He can see out into the club through the hole in the wall, where Carmine is facing down the Brotherhood. An idea comes to him. Baron mimics Bobby’s demonic growl and shouts, “Dammit, Carmine, give the jewel to Jack Jones!”

Hearing this, Carmine is even more confused. “To Jones? B-but Bobby, you said…you said to get it outta here!”

Bantam zips down the wall and through the hole. He throws an electric cage around Carmine in case he starts running again.

Torrent shoots another bit of debris and stuns one of the Brotherhood, while Forterss bearhugs another. The one remaining Sri Lankan yells into his cufflinks, “Converge on Vip’s! Converge on Vip’s!” Torrent quickly runs between Fortress and the electric cage to get a better shot at him. She sends another chunk of wall at him, sending him sprawling into a table. But, as she’s getting into position, her watery leg brushes the cage and shorts it out. The sparking energy dome that was around Carmine dissipates.

Baron again, in Bobby’s demonic growl: “Carmine! Give Jones that gem now!” Baron then steps from the office into the foyer, walking up to Carmine with his hands extended. Carmine is still confused, but crazy people are shooting darts and lightning and bits of plaster at him and he’s had enough. “S-sure, Bobby, sure! Here!” He removes the amulet and hands it to Baron. Then he beats feet past the main stage into the interior of the club.

Baron, clutching the amulet in one hand, darts behind the bouncer’s desk. He removes the DVD from what he assumes is the security system. He also sees one of the weird multi-barreled pistols and takes it.

“No!” cries the man in Fortress’ grasp. “We must have that Gem for the ”/characters/mistress-of-gaia" class=“wiki-content-link”>Mistress!"

MEANWHILE
Inside what’s left of the office, Bobby and Kid are now face to face. The flaming sword slices right through Kid, searing his midsection. Bantam turns and sends a jolt of electricity through his wounded area to stimulate healing. Kid punches back at Bobby who leans out of the way.

Torrent re-enters the office and sprints toward Bobby. She tries to grab him and her hand starts steaming due to the heat.

The demon tries to grab Kid by the throat but the hero blocks it. Bantam hits Bobby with a blast, which enrages him even more. He turns his head and breathes a sheet of fire at Bantam. Too small to get out of the way, the tiny hero is stunned by the flames. He drops to the floor and regains full size.

Kid swipes at Bobby but misses. Torrent leaps onto his fiery body from behind. Now she’s steaming like crazy. The mobster shrugs her off, then swings a fist at Kid, who dodges it.

In the front of the club, Baron now goes to the front door and locks it. Outside, he sees two cars screeching to a halt, one at either end of the parking lot. A few feet away, one of the Brotherhood who’d been previously knocked out gets back up and takes aim at Fortress with a blowgun. She quickly lifts the one she’s been holding and throws him. Both go flying back against the wall and land in a heap.

Torrent gives up on trying to bearhug a flaming monster and dashes out of the office, to the front of the club. She moves next to Baron, who’s gazing out the front door. In the parking lot, from one car emerge more Sri Lankans. From the other spring four men in suits, presumably either Scarpelli’s men or Marcone’s. She takes advantage of her watery body and oozes through the crack between the locked doors, reforming just outside.

The one Sri Lankan still standing steps toward Baron. “We must have that gem! It does not belong to you!”
“But it belongs to you?”
“It belongs to The Mistress. You know this. So does yours.” He indicates the red jewel in Baron’s turban.
Baron drops him with a mental attack.

Fortress looks around and notices the member of the Brotherhood who’d swallowed his dart. He’s lying on the edge of the stage, a stripper bending over him. Fortress turns him over; he’s not breathing. She sees the glowing tip of the dart lodged in his throat. After pulling it out, she begins to perform CPR. In a few seconds he sputters back to life.

Back in the office, Bantam regains his wits and shrinks again. He slams Bobby with another burst of electricity, just as Baron Mind, glancing into the office from the front door, hits Bobby again with a mental blast. This time the psychic attack punches through the demonic resistance and the demon rears back its horned head and bellows fire into the ceiling. Kid then drops and sweeps his leg at Bobby’s, dropping him to the ground with a thud.

“Get away from him!” Kid hears. He turns and looks down the hallway. Carmine stands there, next to the bouncer who’s still gaping. He’s got one of the “special toys” in his shaking hands. It jumps as he pulls the trigger and green energy fires out. The bolt hits Kid with a tremendous impact, sending him flying down the corridor and smashing through the door at the end. He ends up lying on his back on the sidewalk outside.

Bantam zips into the hallway and shoots at Carmine. Electricity dances around his body as he convulses with pain, but he remains standing.

Bobby gets to his feet and stomps into the hall, going after Kid. “I’m gonna burn you!” Kid, still on his back, stretches an arm above his head. A stalk whips out, grabs one of the parked cars only a few feet away, and sends it flying head-on into the flaming villain. Bobby raises his sword of fire to deflect it, but he’s too late: he’s hit in the grill with a grill. The impact is deafening: crunching metal and smashing glass resound off the corridor walls. Bobby is sent careening back down the hallway, so far that he slams into Carmine and they both smash through an interior wall, into the main room. They land in the center of a table, which smashes into firey bits. Club patrons and lap dancers go tumbling.

The demon struggles to his feet and lumbers toward the front door, swatting more normals out of the way as he goes. Bantam dashes down the hallway and examines Carmine’s gun. He sees a numbered dial on one side with four settings. He grows, picks up the gun, and fires across the room at Bobby’s back. The green bolt hits him between the shoulder blades. His flaming body goes into a tumble and blows through the wall next to the front door.

“So much for locking the door,” Baron muses.

Torrent now stands just outside the front door. Bobby lies amidst a pile of rubble a few feet away, in the handicapped parking spot. A few yards from the door, two young men had been heading to the club for a night of debauchery, but they now stand in shock at the scene before them. “You two,” Torrent says, “need to turn around and get out of here. Now.” They do.

Bobby heaves himself to his feet, a bit more slowly than the last time. One of the mobsters now standing next to their car yells, “There he is!” They all open fire with handguns. The bullets hit Bobby but dissipate instantly in puffs of superheated gas. He bellows again and starts to head toward them. Baron instead hits him with one more ego attack. This one goes deep into the brain of the possessed mobster. He stiffens and is perfectly still for a second. Then the flames swirl madly, obscuring his body. With a ‘whoosh’ they flare up and vanish, leaving a smoking, naked, very human Bobby Lucese. He collapses to the ground like a marionette suddenly without strings.

Two of the newly-arrived Sri Lankans sprint toward the front door, the other two head toward the side door, where Kid Green still lies.

Fortress heads outside and kneels beside Bobby, to make sure he’s still breathing. “Get away from him, lady,” one of the mobsters says. Their guns are still drawn. “We’ve got this under control.” Bantam runs over beside her and throws up a electric cage around the three of them.

Kid Green gets up and leaps over to do a very impressive Superhero Landing behind the two Brotherhood who were running toward the front door. They stop and turn around in awe. “Get lost.” They slooooowly back away, meeting the other two back at their car.

Kid then leaps across the parking lot and executes another Superhero Landing in front of the mobsters’ car. “Leave.”
“We ain’t leavin’ widout Bobby.”
“You have to the count of ten to be gone.”
They glance at each other and before the word “One” is out of Kid’s mouth, they’re climbing back into their sedan.

Still inside, Baron slips the amulet into his shirt. It seems to glow and grow warm against his skin. He feels light-headed, almost giddy, for a second. At complete peace with the universe. The euphoria is short-lived, but it leaves behind a certainty: the gem in this amulet is the Karma Gem, one of the four Universal Jewels. [Of which his own Mind Gem is also one — see the “Items” section for more info — Ed.]

He’s jolted from his reverie by the patrons and dancers, who are all heading toward the exits in somewhat of a scramble. He unlocks the front door and steps outside, out of their way.

He can hear sirens in the distance as he watches the mobsters and the Brotherhood drive away. As the rest of the team restrains Bobby, Carmine, and the Sri Lankan who appeared to be in charge, Baron calls Scarpelli. “We’ve dealt with Bobby.”
“Jones, that’s wonderful. Really great news. Now, you need to take him to —”
“I won’t be able to hand him over to you.”
“Excuse me? Why not?”
“This whole thing is too high-profile. The Guardians just battled a demon in the middle of a strip club in downtown Chicago. There’s nothing I can do.”
Baron can hear Scarpelli breathing for a moment. "I’m disappointed, Jones. Very disappointed.
“Listen, did he…did he have anything…unusual in his possession?”
“No.”
“Nothing at all?”
“Nothing at all.”
Again Scarpelli is silent. Then, “I’ll be in touch.”

What’s Baron going to do with the Karma Gem? What are the Guardians going to do with two Chicago mobsters? What’s that crazy pistol those guys were using? Those questions and more will be answered next issue!

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