American Eagle charged through his foes like a red-blue blur, cape spread wide behind him. Talons leapt from his hands like missiles, striking the black-clad aggressors across their arms and chests, painful distractions which the costumed crusader used to get close enough to deliver staggering blows to their midsections. Elbows and knuckles, with steel plating to enhance the wounds, left indelible markings on the broken members of La Legion Noire, the Black Legion.
A crime syndicate that operated throughout France, the Crimson Chevalier was thought to have shut it down for good before retiring in 1981. But it appeared they were back with a vengeance; and more elusive than ever. As such, they were the primary suspect in the death of American Eagle’s mentor.
Assisted in his investigations for the past month by White Mouse, granddaughter of a French resistance fighter in WWII, he had finally cornered their centre of activities. White Mouse was an unusual hero; the third to use the name and more adept at finding information then fighting. He had met her mother before, while training with Crimson Chevalier, and was impressed with her skills.
A member of the Legion reached into a cache and drew a fencing sword and pistol, waiting for Eagle to make his move. Three of his compatriots slowly backed behind him to arm themselves, and watched.
American Eagle had modified his costume since leaving St. Theodore. Now that he was a wanted fugitive, he had put some thought into disappearing in a second. Inside his gloves were fog bombs, and he clapped his hands together, pulling the triggers. Unlike most grenades, they exploded immediately, obscuring him completely. Of course, his lenses slid down and he could see through the fog without effort.
Moving swiftly, he pulled a handful of talons from the ammunition belt across his chest, he flung them toward the armed Legionnaire. Running forward, he jumped and used the Legionnaire as leverage to spring into the air, coming crashing down on the remainder.
Slipping a cartridge into his wrist-mounted launcher, he fired his grappling hook. It dug into the wall and caused the fleeing member of the Black Legion to trip over it. Recalling the hook, it snagged on the Legionnaire’s costume and pulled him along.
“Now listen. I want to talk to Revenant” said American Eagle in badly accented French.
May 12th, 1994
16 minutes after Roulette took hostages…
Gary the radio host’s phone rang and he jumped; he knew who it was. Handing it to Police Captain Lin, she answered the phone.
“This is Roulette. I am enquiring as to whether you have heard from the Eagle?”
“You know by now that he is not in town. The news has just made national, and we haven’t had a chance to release this phone number. There is no way for the Eagle to know how to call you.”
“Smokescreens. I tire of this, and will shoot a hostage in 2 minutes unless you can get him on the phone.” Roulette hung up and cocked his gun.
“Okay, we need to stop him. Snipers, you have a green light” said SWAT leader John Ross, who was also on the balcony.
“We can’t sir, he is crouching behind a decoration. If we try to shoot, we have a 50-50 chance of hitting a hostage.”
“Unacceptable. Alright, continue to wait. But as soon as you get the shot…” he began
“We’re out of options here” said Lin “Someone is going to die.”
Backstreet, who had been sitting to the side and listening until now, stood and walked out of the room.
“Kid, what the hell are you doing?” asked Ross, drawing a pistol and following him.
“Offering me as a trade for the kids” said Backstreet, running down the stairs “Maybe he’ll take me, and if not then at least I’ll get him to walk forward.”
“This is too risky” said Ross, cocking his gun and aiming-
“Blam!” shouted Backstreet, throwing his hands into the air. Ross jumped and flicked the safety on.
Continuing down the stairs, Backstreet explained “In less than two minutes, that’s the sound you’re gonna here, and a little kid will be dead. Unless I do something about it”
Ross holstered the weapon, and offered advice as they walked “Alright kid, get out there. We’ll tell the media to switch off, that way you can take off your mask to gather trust. Hands above your head, no fast movements. Speak slowly and carefully, but don’t push him.” He then opened the door, and pulled his radio out, so as to clear the media away.
“I’ll do my best, sir.”
Truman Tower, Los Angeles
He was known by all his subordinates as ‘The Executive’. His equals also called him by this title, though they were aware of his actual identity, and he had no superiors to answer to. As the highest ranking member of the Underworld, he had spent millions building a comprehensive set of protocols for everything from security to intelligence gathering.
Sitting in the corner office of the top floor on Truman Tower, he had a line of sight view to the golden Tower of the Homeland Heroes. It amused him to be so close to what may be his greatest enemies, and yet have them be completely unaware of the fact. Luckily, the windows of this building were mirrored when he chose it, and a chemical solution made by one of his closest allies ensured that the windows also reflected X-Rays, ultraviolet and infrared radiation. The window washer platform also automatically installed vibration pads to the base of each window, rendering laser-activated listening devices useless.
Meanwhile, his other close ally had been laying magical protections over the tower and the offices of his subordinates. The Eye of Nostradamus couldn’t see through the shadows he had placed over this building, and any attempts to scry the occupants in a crystal ball would result in nothing but red fog.
Between that and the crème of the crop of a security force, Truman Tower would be the hardest structure to break into in LA, perhaps even more so than the Tower itself.
Leaning back in his desk, the Executive looked through a pitch from one of his brighter lieutenants, the sector leader of Miami. He had a proposal for the next generation of Live Hard/Die Free fights, which officially died in 1987, when criminals stopped fighting each other when they realised it was safer to go outside without Universal Man around. In fact, the whole Underworld had collapsed in that year. Everyone thought that without the Guardian of the Globe watching them, they could do better themselves. It took the Executive years to gather together a Tribunal of criminal geniuses, and he reinstated the Underworld in 1990.
“Clash of Champions” He sounded the name out loud, and closed his eyes. What made the Executive good at his job was not a metahuman power; it was simply an ability he had developed with years of practice. He could visualise scenarios, all possible outcomes and the emotional responses of all people involved. This one would be risky and expensive, but if it worked as well as it had the potential to, then the Underworld’s quarterly profits would triple.
Which reminds me; he thought and called in his secretary.
“I want the figures on Jack Nimble’s CrimeSpree attempt, and the results of Forager’s raid.” The secretary, a young man with an unhealthy appetite for senseless violence, had grown into his role quite well and returned with the two folders within minutes.
“Thank you, Tyler” at the sound of his name,the surly teen’s eyes narrowed, barely visible under his overlong fringe “I’m sorry, but until you learn control, I shall address you by your birth name.” Tyler Parker bowed silently, and returned to his station.
“Such a nice young man” muttered the Executive, an odd thing to say about a 14 year old who has a larger body count to his name than a plane crash.
Opening the files, he read over the CrimeSpree details. Calamari was a mistake, though it was useful of him to betray Jack when he did; his share was used to put in effect a prisoner transfer and pay for them to be abducted en route by Underworld operatives. And when it came down to it, fostering that level of trust in the members of CrimeSpree could only help their reputation. Not many employers are willing to bail you out and pay you.
And the auction went off without a hitch. Everything was sold to the underworked and overpaid elite of Manhattan, and Underworld earned a twelve percent higher margin than predicted. The mention of Figaro’s hired muscle attempting to beat down Wrecking Ball caused the Executive some worry; the New York crime lord was starting to become a problem.
Forager, on the other hand, executed his mission flawlessly. Obtaining some rare metal alloys from a Department of Mainland Technologies storehouse in North Dakota, they had been sold to a mystery buyer in Utah. He made a mental note to investigate this further, when a knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.
“Come in” he said, irritated.
Tyler walked in and bowed, “Sir, it’s apparently urgent. Line 1”
The Executive picked up the phone and pressed ‘Line 1’, and Tyler left.
“It’s afternoon, Pandemonium” corrected the Executive, leaning forward “What’s so urgent?”
“A situation in St. Theodore that I assume you wouldn’t want to miss. Peterson’s channel picked it up, and I assume it’s going to be an issue for our plans.”
“Peterson’s channel?” he asked, pressing a switch. The wall cabinet slid aside to reveal an enormous screen. He changed it to the relevant channel, and answered Professor Pandemonium’s question “St. Ted was going to be the second CrimeSpree, Inc. target. Their local superheroic presence is virtually non-existent, and they have a smorgasbord of valuables.”
“Today would be a bad day to go there. A villain is breaking the first rule”
“One of ours?”
“No. Records show he’s a psychopath obsessed with American Eagle.”
“Those are children that he has there. That is not good”
“If this ‘Roulette’ kills a child, that city is going to be in lockdown. Police will shoot to kill any unfamiliar cape”
“I am aware of that, thank you for notifying me. I’ll get right on this.”
May 12th, 1994
Headquarters of La Legion Noire, Parisian Underground
American Eagle was led to the rooms of a man named the Revenant, #3 on INTERPOL’s Top Ten and #1 on the DGSE Most Wanted list. The room was empty, which made Eagle nervous, so he slipped a talon into each hand.
A blade touched the back of his neck, and like a flash Eagle fell forward and threw a talon at his attacker. Catching it, Revenant delivered a powerful kick to American Eagle’s shin. Stumbling, Eagle regained his footing to see an empty room again.
Until his talon was thrown at him from behind. It missed him entirely, so he spun and threw three more in a single swing. Not a one hit Revenant, though they flew true to his aim. Sparks flew as they bounced off the stone walls.
Attacking from behind and disappearing? My foe is well named thought American Eagle. He grabbed a taser next, and waited.
There! Hearing a noise he spun and fired. This time however, Revenant appeared in front of Eagle and planted his open palm on Eagle’s face. Sweeping the crimefighter’s feet out from under him, Revenant pushed the two of them through the floor like it wasn’t even there. He released Eagle as soon as they cleared the stone, and the costumed crusader slammed into the ground.
Revenant landed on his feet and picked up a knife off the floor. American Eagle reached for a talon, and was shocked to find that his belt was gone.
“No metal?” asked Revenant in French “I can control what I phase, monsieur, and your exquisite knives have a high nickel-iron content, do they not?”
“You…” began Eagle, realising that his belt was indeed lined with a nickel-iron alloy. Somehow the belt and its contents remained solid while they became ghost-like. “English, please.”
Acquiescing, Revenant continued “Now, you wanted to talk to me, so I suggest we talk.”
Standing, American Eagle brushed himself off “Crimson Chevalier’s murder. I want to know what you know about it.”
Revenant looked him in the eye “Nothing. So, it is true then? You were trained by the greatest non-powered hero in France, and you were not responsible for his death?”
“Upon his death, I received a package containing details of his adventures, and notes on criminals of his still at large. I decided to utilise the notes and investigate his death. I’ve battled le Fleur Mort and Forteresse , and heard that you are the man to talk to, the one with the biggest grudge.”
“I am, but I would not touch a hair on the Chevalier’s head. He’s had enough trouble, what with that incident with those American robots. Besides, my organisation survived his interference. He was not as great a threat to me as he thought.”
“Then tell me what you know” said Eagle, standing in a battle ready stance.
Revenant threw back his head and laughed “You amuse me, American. I see you are smart, you anticipated my attacks while we fought above, but that is not unusual. You super-heroes are clever, but not overly intelligent per se. Does forming battle strategies compare with running an entire organisation of people you do not fully trust? No, monsieur, it does not. So trying to appeal to me as an intellectual equal is a waste of time. Besides, I can phase through anything you can throw at me, including yourself.”
As soon as he started talking, American Eagle realised he couldn’t fight this man. Smart and patient, able to bide his time and take the optimal action. So he sat.
“Alright. Are you going to answer my question? If not, simply let me leave and I promise to not return.”
This surprised the Revenant , though he didn’t let it show “Intriguing. I would have thought you’d be unable to resist fighting the Black Legion, yet you are eager to leave and not come back.”
“Not at all. I know I cannot defeat you, or this organisation. Crimson Chevalier couldn’t do it, and he knows Paris far better than I. Why would I waste my time or life on this?”
“Why indeed?” asked Revenant, eyes narrowing.
Suddenly, the whole place shook. Revenant looked up at the ceiling, and was blind-sided by American Eagle.
“Especially when the Protégers could do it for me.”
The Protégers, a French superhero team whom American Eagle had crossed paths with, had battled their way into the headquarters of la Legion Noire. Tracking a beacon that Eagle had triggered seconds before phasing through the floor, they thought they were following White Mouse, whom he’d convinced to take a leave of absence for a week.
When the four of them breached their way into the Revenant’s rooms, they found the utility belt and various gadgets lying all over it.
“You got to be kidding me” said Geurrier in French. He recognised the belt and its contents, including the beacon that they had tracked here. “Where is that… that…”
“Down below” guessed Argent Sentinelle, thinking of the Revenant.
Shaking his head, Geurrier waved for his teammate to take care of it. A bolt of energy leapt from Argent Sentinelle’s armoured hands, and they fell into the underroom.
American Eagle was sitting cross legged, waiting while Revenant lay nearby, dazed..
Geurrier pointed in accusation “You… You American… what have you done with White Mouse?”
“Nothing. White Mouse is alive, well, and probably being commended. I traded the beacon for a tip-off to the location of supervillain Forteresse . I required information from this man, and decided a little back-up couldn’t hurt. Can I have my belt back, please?” it was handed back to him by la Flèche, and he strapped it on. Geurrier was still upset.
“Well, this is the last time we will… Never mind. What did you want to know from this man?”
“What happened to Crimson Chevalier?”
Taken aback, Geurrier froze “So the rumours are true, no? You were taught by him?”
“Yes, and I’d like to find whoever killed him.”
Geurrier spoke rapid French with his teammates for a minute, and then returned his attention to Eagle. “Come with me, I have two people who you should meet.”
Thomas Turner walked out of the building, right onto the empty street. Empty save for the float now belonging to Roulette, that is. Police had shepherded all the cameras away, leaving only the news helicopter to worry about. But it was too far away to get a clear shot of his face, so he was ready to unmask if needed.
“Stop right there” said Roulette, raising one of his guns and pointing it at Backstreet “Who are you?”
“My name is Backstreet, and I’m-”
“You are not Backstreet. And you are not American Eagle. Tell me why I shouldn’t shoot you”
“I am here to offer a trade; the children for me.”
“Why would I do that?”
Backstreet took a gamble; based off what he heard of Roulette “Because I am the closest thing you’ll get to St. Theodore’s protector right now. I was trained by American Eagle to take his place, because the government said he was no longer welcome.”
“You were trained by the Eagle?” he asked, leaning forward “Are you Sparrow?”
Sparrow? Sparrow died two weeks before I first suited up, how…
“I was going to be his Sparrow, yes” said Backstreet, taking another chance.
“Prove it. Remove your mask and gloves, and walk up here.”
Doing so, Backstreet kept his hands in the air and stood at the front of the float.
“Nurse, check him for weapons” ordered Roulette “Stand behind him, and pat him over. If I see a weapon in that costume,” he threatened, turning both guns to face the nearest child “she dies.”
“No weapons” promised Backstreet, hands in the air still. The nurse patted him over, and Roulette was satisfied. He holstered both weapons, and stood.
SWAT sniper to Ross: “Still not clear sir, but if the kid can get him to step forward…”
Ross to Lin: “Damn me, but he’s doing it”
Roulette gestured, and Backstreet climbed onto the float
“If you were trained by the Eagle, I will know. And if you are the Sparrow, then I will kill you and the children go free. If not, I will mow you down and not stop until everyone here is dead.”
The children cried, but Backstreet held a brave face. He had been instructed by Eagle, but in terms of hand-to-hand he had minimal training, supplemented with boxing lessons by Backstreet.
“Fight me, Sparrow-Backstreet” said Roulette, standing in a familiar pose. It was the pose American Eagle took when he was one on one with a trained foe.
Taking the pose he’d been taught, he waited. Let them make the first move, don’t get careless. And don’t get to careful either, or he will break you. Eagle’s voice floated into his head, and strengthened Backstreet’s resolve.
Nodding approval, Roulette struck. Backstreet blocked, speeding up his metabolism to use to his advantage. Trying to emulate American Eagle, he struck back with what he thought was a picture perfect strike. But Roulette caught it easily, and delivered an elbow to Backstreet’s cheek. Before the young crimefighter could blink, he was struck in the stomach and throat. Stumbling backwards, he saw Roulette’s eyes go dark.
“You lie” he said simply “You have no style, least of all the Eagle’s style” he stepped forward and delivered a high kick that bruised Backstreet’s jaw, and stepped forward again to press his gun to Backstreet’s chest.
“Die, pretender” he said, and a gunshot rang out, followed by two more.
SWAT sniper to Ross: “Got him sir, two shots right to the base of the skull.”
Ross to SWAT sniper: “Did you say two?”
SWAT sniper to Ross: “Yessir.”
Backstreet fell at the same time as Roulette, a bleeding wound in his chest, inches from his heart.
Ross on open SWAT channel: “Close in! Disarm Roulette; get those kids out of there. We need an ambulance, now!”
SWAT troopers swarmed over the float, moving the children away from the bleeding bodies and loaded weapons. An ambulance spun around the corner, and paramedics swarmed over Backstreet.
“Oh god…” muttered Lin, hand over her mouth.
“The kid did it. He actually did it” gasped Ross, running his hands through his head.
The St. Theodore Bulletin headline the next morning would read:
A TRUE HERO’S SACRIFICE: ELEVEN CHILDREN SAVED DUE TO SELFLESS ACTION
The story spread all the way to the LA Chronicle and the Municipal City Messenger:
BACKSTREET: PROTECTOR OF THE INNOCENT
ST. THEODORE’S GUARDIAN ANGEL EARNS HIS WINGS
June 27th, 1994
“This is disgusting,” spat the shadowman, looking at the papers covering his desk. His aide, a man under the name of Mr. Watson, gave him the coffee and stood back.
“I agree sir, we are backed into a corner on the ideology side, and replacing Mr. DuPont has only blinded us.”
The shadowman paused. “What do you mean?”
Mr. Watson blanched “Here, sir” he dug into newspapers and pulled out one written entirely in French “It appears American Eagle has spent most of this year in France; and has joined forces with DuPont’s old maid and butler.”
The shadowman sped read the paper, his dark mood becoming dangerously obsidian “It appears that our old enemy is more of a threat than we thought. Bring an operative onto this case; to find and follow the American Eagle. On a similar note, if our agent in the Underworld cannot find Sovereign in another week, have him killed.
“No, my earlier comments were in reference to the general spread of front page news. Look,” he threw a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald from Australia, dated April 29th.
WAR DECLARED AGAINST WHALING
“I ran a survey under an alias; everyone loves Man of War because of this. And another””
The New York Times, May 16th.
NEW PATRIOTS CAPTURE CRIMESPREE
“Again, even though over eleven million US dollars of goods were stolen, the public feel they can ‘sleep safely’ thanks to the New Patriots watching over them. And worst of all;” a copy of the St. Theodore Bulletin:
A TRUE HERO’S SACRIFICE: ELEVEN CHILDREN SAVED DUE TO SELFLESS ACTION
“—you know about this one, it made international news. If this ‘Backstreet’ managed to defeat Roulette and a hostage was executed, we could work with that. But people would still remember the hero being a hero. Look at this; it doesn’t matter that it was a police officer who killed Roulette, they still praise the super-hero.”
“I understand sir, you want them to become hated before we crush them.”
“Exactly; I want them to be branded as villains.”