14 - The Return of Red Blade

The Return of Red Blade
By
Morpheus

A hero returns to help a young super hero team and confront the legacy he left behind.
This story takes place in Morpheus's Legacy Universe.

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Author's Note:This is the fourteenth story set in my Legacy Universe and like the others is a stand alone story. You don't have to have read any of the others to understand this one, but it might help to have read Glamour Girl and the Infiltrator. This story is shorter than any of the others in this universe and was originally intended to be a bit of a quickie inspired by the powers of a character from Glamour Girl, though it did end up a bit longer than originally intended.

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I was floating formlessly in the void when my consciousness returned to me. I could not quite remember where I had just been, whether it had been the dark, the light, or something else entirely. All that truly mattered was the call.

The call for help was not directed at me, but it still caught my attention enough to draw me from wherever I had been. It wasn't verbal, but something that touched me much deeper than that. Though I had no idea who this person was or why they needed help, I somehow KNEW that I could help. I somehow knew that this was personal for me. This touched upon my past. This involved...unfinished business.

With that I suddenly regained my full self awareness. I remembered who I was. I remembered how I'd come to be here, if not where I'd been just instants before. My name is Robert Kester though I was better known by my super hero name Red Blade. I am...was a super hero.

My life flashed before my eyes and in an instant I recalled finding my magic crimson sword in the ruins of an old medieval castle. I remembered fighting alongside Faction Zero and then turning down their offer of membership, since working with a team didn't sit right with me. I'd always thought of myself more as a lone wolf, but that didn't stop me from having my junior partner...trainee...sidekick Stiletto. But then again, Stiletto had been a special case, having been orphaned by my arch enemy Knight Fall. I'd sort of adopted him, largely out of a sense of guilt and responsibility over what had happened to his family.

I felt a surge of anger as I thought about Knight Fall. I remembered the first time we'd met, when he'd tried stealing my crimson sword in the belief that it was the key to unlock a massive treasure. I'd later learned this belief was actually correct, though the treasure had been lost forever in the discovery. Knight Fall never forgave me for that, just as I never forgave him for murdering my best friend and his wife in retaliation. That was the day Stiletto had been orphaned and ended up in my care. I couldn't turn away the son of my best friend, especially when he was orphaned because of me.

However my grudge against Knight Fall went deeper than that. It went deeper than the dozens of times we'd fought over the years. After all how could I ever forgive the man who'd murdered me?

I turned my attention to the call and moved to answer it. I had no body, so no voice to respond, but my very decision seemed to have been enough to draw me to the source. I felt a presence...a woman...no...a girl. This girl was the one who'd called out for help.

"My name is Channel," she said, more as a voice in my mind than anything else.

Suddenly our minds were touching and we were communicating directly, not in words and speech, but in thoughts and images. In an instant I knew everything I needed to know about this girl and why she'd called for help. The girl's name was Channel and she was an 18 year old developed hero with the power to call upon the dead for help and channel them in her body. She was also part of a group of young heroes called the Slackers. Their team name certainly didn't inspire me to confidence in their abilities, but it did give me a good idea as to why they so desperately needed my help.

A moment later reality suddenly snapped back into place around me. My senses all came to life for the first time since my death. I took a deep breath, savoring the sensation of having a body again. It was incredible, even if this wasn't my own body.

I looked down at myself, already knowing what I'd find, since Channel was communicating to me directly into my mind. Still I was surprised to find myself in Channel's body...in the body of an 18 year old girl with long brown hair. A single look was enough to tell me that I definitely had a girl's body, though my costume looked much more familiar than I expected. In fact I was wearing a red and white spandex costume very similar to my old uniform, though it was adapted to my current gender and body.

"That's a part of my power," Channel told me from inside my head. "When I channel someone with a strong self image, my clothes change to match what they expect. I usually get their costumes along with their minds..."

"Good," I responded, muttering aloud. I felt more comfortable to be wearing a familiar costume. And though the red mask I wore over the top half of my face was redundant in this body, it still made me feel more in control as well. It made me feel as though I was Red Blade and not just Robert Kester.

Then I suddenly became aware of the sword that was strapped to my side, just as it had always been before. I drew my sword and stared in amazement. It was my crimson sword...or at least looked like it. It was a simple broadsword with a golden metallic hilt and cross guard. The blade itself was made of an unknown metal that looked as red as blood, and the red gem sent in the hilt gleamed with an inner fire. No, I realized that this wasn't the real crimson sword, but an echo...an exact duplicate of it created by Channel's powers.

"What good is Red Blade without his crimson sword?" I mused, swinging it through the air experimentally. I felt a bit of satisfaction as I did that. It felt exactly right. It even hummed with my crimson sword's power. If I hadn't known better I would have sworn it was the real thing.

For a moment I just stood there, savoring the sensation of being alive again and the familiar feel of the crimson sword in my hand. However I was quite aware that this was completely temporary and that I had a leash to keep me on track. I was currently the one in control of this body, but Channel was here as well and watching everything I did. It was rightfully her body and she had all the leverage, so when I was done or if she wanted her body back for any reason she could easily send me back where she'd called me from and take over again. I was here for one reason and one reason only...to help Channel and her friends.

I finally turned my attention to Channel's friends...the Slackers. Most of them looked as though they'd come right out of high school, though one looked as though she was still there. As I looked at each one, Channel mentally gave me everything I needed to know about them.

The first one was a 19 year old black man...or at least he would be black if he wasn't covered with a silvery metallic coating that made him look like a chrome statue. In fact Channel told me that his name was Chrome and that his power was to manipulate this liquid metal that he coated himself with and could harden at will.

Next was Nike, named after the Greek goddess of victory and not the shoe. She had short black hair with fairly dark skin and features that indicated Mediterranean heritage. Her costume was white with black trim and had gray metal armor pieces on her shoulders, belt and elbows. However her most notable feature were the large gray feathery wings which grew out of her back.

Channel assured me that in spite of her wings, Nike's real power was in an invisible force field that surrounded her. Not only did the force field protect her, but she could reshape it and move it around with her mind. She could manipulate the force field to simulate enhanced strength and even stretch it out into invisible blades. That was also how she really flew, not with her wings as one might assume.

Then came Deadbeat who was nearly the opposite of Channel. Where Channel summoned the spirits of the dead to work through her body, Deadbeat was some sort of ghost who possessed and used the bodies of the dead. As a result, he looked more or less like a zombie to everyone around him. At the moment he was wearing the body of a murdered super hero called Breakneck and had access to Breakneck's super speed powers as a result. However the body was in pretty bad condition and didn't look as though it would last much longer.

Glamour Girl was the youngest of the group at about 16 or 17, though Channel assured me that she wasn't an official member of the team. She was a cute teenage girl with long golden blond hair and a spandex costume of green and gold. Her shirt was only a halter top though revealing her midriff and it had no sleeves or arms, only a pair of fingerless gloves for her hands. She was also glowing with a strange rainbow aura. Overall, I found it very hard to take this girl seriously being as young as she was and dressed like that.

The last member of the Slackers was an 18 year old girl with short blond hair and a blue and gray costume with white trim. Zero Kay as she was called could create balls of cold energy which she could throw. These balls would explode like grenades, flash freezing everything around them.

But what interested me most about Zero Kay was that Channel told me her older brother was Shiver of Faction Zero. I knew Shiver and remembered him as a rookie I'd fought alongside several times before my death. Of course, that was years ago and now he was considered a veteran.

"Just how much has changed since I've been gone?" I whispered, fully aware that I wouldn't have the time to really find out.

"Who are you?" Zero Kay asked me suspiciously.

"I'm called Red Blade," I answered, finding my new voice strange to my ears. "I know...knew your brother."

"What?" Zero Kay asked in surprise.

"Who?" Deadbeat answered with a casual shrug that looked gruesome in his corpse body, "Never heard of ya."

"I have," Glamour Girl responded, looking more intelligent and serious than I'd first taken her for. "I heard he died years ago."

I just nodded at that, amazed at just how easily they accepted me possessing their friends body. Then again, with Channel's power there was no telling how often they had to deal with someone new in her body. The thought was kind of creepy and I wondered how she could accept letting other people use her body like this.

Then I scowled, remembering that I was here to help them. "What's going on?" I asked, though Channel began feeding that information into my mind before I'd even finished asking the question.

"It's the Black Guild," Chrome told me with a grim expression.

"They're bad news," Zero Kay added while Deadbeat just nodded.

"They're the ones who killed this body," Deadbeat said grimly, "Or at least it was some other Black Guild members... I figured I'd help Breakneck get even with the people who'd killed him by using his powers against them..."

"Don't take credit for that," Chrome pointed out, "It was Nike's idea for you to use Breakneck's body..." Deadbeat just shrugged at that.

I nodded, no longer needing them to fill me in on what was going on since Channel had already taken care of that. According to Channel, a dangerous group of villains called the Black Guild had just attempted to size control of an elementary school and hold the children for hostage. That alone would have been bad enough, but that was only a decoy as to what the Black Guild was really up to.

"We received an anonymous tip," Channel whispered in my head even as she was feeding me some of the memories of what had led up to her summoning me. "Whoever it was told us what the Black Guild was up to and that we were the only ones close enough to stop them in time..."

Whoever this anonymous tipster was, he or she not only warned the Slackers that the Black Guild was about to take over this school, but told them what the villains were really up to. As horrible as it would be to take these children hostage, their real plan was far more sinister.

The Black Guild's true intention was to use a mind control device on these children and implant specific commands and behavior. When the villains had found an excuse to leave, perhaps allowing themselves to be chased away by some heroes, no one would have realized that they'd left behind a small army of sleeper agents who would awaken and obey their commands once given the trigger. The Black Guild would have had hundreds of children as their foot soldiers and assassins...

"Such evil," I whispered with a cold shudder running through me.

Fortunately, the Slackers had been given enough of a warning that they'd actually be able to stop the Black Guild before they could do anything. That was why Channel had called out for help. She needed me to help fight off the Black Guild which was due to arrive at the school at any minute.

I frowned and looked around the school where we were waiting. Channel assured me that they'd already warned the principal and that the students had been evacuated, but I still didn't like the idea of fighting in a school. Even if the children were all gone and safe, it just seemed wrong to be bringing a battle into these surroundings. If it was up to me I would have looked for a way to attack the Black Guild before they ever got here. However it wasn't up to me.

Then I looked around at the Slackers to get a better idea of how they might do in this upcoming fight. Deadbeat was standing away from the others because of his smell, looking relaxed and playing a hand held video game. Somehow, I didn't think I could rely on him to be much help, but his name should have been clue enough for that.

As for the others, I was fairly impressed. Nike was tense and ready to go at a moments notice, looking almost ready to fight. Chrome and Zero Kay looked grim, but prepared. And Glamour Girl, the youngest of the group had a strange expression of fierce determination on her face, as though she might have a personal stake in what the Black Guild was trying to do. Perhaps she had a younger sibling who went to this very school, or at least a younger sibling of the same age as the kids here.

Channel was nervous and afraid...but not for herself. I could feel her emotions in my mind. She was afraid that if we failed to stop the Black Guild, then they'd just try this again at a different school. I could feel her lack of confidence in her own abilities as well, which was why she'd called for help before the Black Guild had ever arrived. Of course, that wasn't too surprising. Her only real power was to call other people to come and fight for her. I wished I could help build her confidence, but I wouldn't have time. That was something she'd have to do on her own.

Then I looked at Zero Kay again, remembering her brother and suddenly thinking about my own little sister Cynthia. Cynthia had been just a few years younger than these kids the last time I'd seen her. I felt a surge of sadness and guilt as I thought of her. I hadn't even told her about my second identity...about my life as Red Blade. It had seemed like the best way to protect her from my enemies at the time, but now that explanation seemed hollow. She was my family and I'd lied to her and hadn't trusted her with the truth. Now it was far too late.

I couldn't help wondering if Cynthia had ended up with Stiletto...with Chad since that was his real name. The two of them had been nearly the same age and I know she had a crush on him. Though I wasn't sure, I think he liked her too though he was too self-conscious about the fact to ask her out while I was still around.

"Damn," I muttered, gripping my faux crimson sword more tightly. I didn't have time for thinking about the past. I was here for a reason and that reason was to stop the Black Guild.

Suddenly I heard a loud crashing sound from a short distance away. We all turned to look at each other then went running. Deadbeat took his time getting back to his feet, and though he was currently the fastest of us he was the last one to actually start moving in that direction.

We found the source of a the noise just a minute later. A group of people in brightly colored costumes stood in front of a hole that had been smashed into a wall, all cursing and looking pissed. I didn't really recognize any of them, but knew that this had to be the Black Guild we were expecting.

The first was a woman who floated several feet above the ground and had a body that seemed to be made of a bluish white energy. Electricity crackled around her in an aura that I didn't want to touch. Channel whispered into my mind that this was Shokra, a mercenary with electrical powers whom the Slackers had fought several times before.

A bored looking man with dark hair and a long white trench coat stood beside her, not looking all that surprised or excited to see us suddenly appear. I'd never seen him before and neither had Channel, but she'd at least knew who he was and had heard about him before. According to Channel, he was called Cortex and he had low level mind control powers. He could control people if they were weak willed or had undeveloped minds which usually came down to drug addicts, the mentally ill...and children.

"Damn," I whispered, realizing that Cortex was the perfect person to keep all the kids under control until they could use the mind control device on them and make the control more permanent. That was probably the very reason he was here in the first place.

Next was a tall gaunt man who was dressed in an expensive business suit that was far too loose on him. He looked anorexic and ancient, though there was no telling how old he really was. There was a glowing white sphere the size of a soft ball floating over his shoulder, and though I didn't recognize him I definitely knew that sphere.

"The Pearl of Night," I whispered.

The Pearl of Night was some sort of magical parasite or symbiont who would bond to a willing person. It would feed off their health and life energies leaving them physically weak and gaunt as this man was, but it would also grant them vast powers over shadows and darkness. Whoever this man was, he'd sold his health for power just as the previous user I'd known had done. And just like my old enemy the Pearl, he'd obviously chosen to use his new powers for evil.

"I sense darkness in that one," Glamour Girl exclaimed beside me, staring at the gaunt man with a grim expression.

The man beside the gaunt man was almost the complete opposite being tall and muscular with long blond hair. He had a bare chest with no shirt on, but wore a pair of green pants with gold trim. However the feature that drew my attention most was the fact that he was wearing a huge metal gauntlet on his right hand. As big as he was, the gauntlet looked as though it belonged to someone three or four times his size. And unfortunately, Channel knew absolutely nothing about him.

The last member of the Black Guild who was standing there looked vaguely familiar, but I certainly didn't recognize her. She was a young woman about the same age as the Slackers. She had black and green striped hair and wore a sexy black witch outfit with a black witch hat and a green sash wrapped around her waist. Her costume immediately made me think of a former ally in Faction Zero named Ms. Witch.

And then I saw the device sitting beside the man with the gauntlet. It was a metal box about three feet wide on each side with all sorts of cables and wires coming out of it. One of the cables attached to a hand held projector that looked something like a bazooka with an antenna on the end.

I immediately recognized the design of the device as being extremely familiar to one I'd seen before. It looked nearly identical to a mind control weapon created by the villain Lord Dark. Of course, I knew that this wasn't the same weapon since I'd cut Lord Dark's device into pieces with my crimson blade, but it was obviously made from the same design...perhaps even from the exact same blue prints.

"Where are the fucking kids at?" the woman in the witch costume demanded with a cruel sneer. "How can we finish the plan without the damn kids?"

"They're not here," the big man with the gauntlet commented, not seeming all that bothered.

However Cortex pointed straight at us and commented almost casually, "I have a feeling that these fellows know something about that..."

"The Slackers," Shokra spat in annoyance, "damn..."

"Fuck," the witch spat out maliciously. "I guess we'll just have to kill these punks..."

The man with the gauntlet just grinned, "Cool... Now I can have some fun..."

And With that the man with the gauntlet slammed his fist against the wall. There was a momentary red glow around his fist as the wall exploded inward creating a gaping hole and revealing how dangerous his gauntlet really was. I made a mental note to avoid letting him hit me.

"Get em!" Zero Kay called out, throwing a ball of glowing white energy straight into the middle of their group.

The Black Guild all jumped out of the way just in time. Zero Kay's sphere hit the ground and suddenly seemed to explode outward, creating a bubble of bluish white energy which quickly expanded to a 10 food diameter and then vanished entirely all within a second. However everything that had been within that 10 foot wide bubble was now coated with frost and ice.

Shokra hovered higher in the air and let loose with a blast of electricity that was aimed right at Zero Kay, but Nike suddenly got between them and took the blast right in the chest. However Nike didn't seem phased by the attack at all and immediately flew straight at Shokra with an almost eager grin.

Deadbeat shot forward, moving his zombie body at super speed as he rushed straight at the big man with the gauntlet. He let loose with a series of super speed punches that were faster than my eyes could see, though the man with the gauntlet barely seemed to notice.

"Yo dude," the man with the gauntlet laughed, "That kind of tickles..."

"They weren't supposed to be here," Cortex exclaimed with a look of fear as he realized that there was no one present whom he could really use his powers on. Then he stood behind the gaunt man with the Pearl of Night and demanded, "Protect me... You know I don't like physical confrontations..."

"You coward," the gaunt man said, his voice hollow and filled with scorn.

"Easy for you to say Gaunt," Cortex snorted, "your powers actually work on them..."

Gaunt was a very appropriate name for the man with the Pearl of Night and it was nice to finally have a name for the Pearl's replacement. He gestured with a bony hand and blackness began to pour out of the floating white orb. The darkness hit the ground and began to spread out, suddenly catching Chrome in it as though in tar.

"Let me go," Chrome snarled, the liquid metal coating on his body stretching into claws on his fingers. He tried swinging and lashing out at Gaunt, but was too far away.

Gaunt didn't bother looking satisfied or much of anything else. Instead, he gestured again and the darkness began to envelope Chrome, covering him much as his own liquid metal coating was.

"Don't worry," Glamour Girl exclaimed, "I've got you..."

Glamour girl floated in the air, her body surrounded with that rainbow aura of hers. She even seemed to glow with a golden light just beneath her skin. Then she gestured and fired a beam of light straight at the black patch that was overwhelming Chrome. As soon as her beam hit the darkness, it began to crumble and fade away. I stared in amazement at how easily she was defeating Gaunt's powers. It was almost as though her own power was designed for that very task.

I was in action at this point as well, charging straight towards the man with the gauntlet in order to give Deadbeat a hand. Zero Kay was thinking the same thing and threw one of her flash freezing spheres at him. However the big man caught it in his gauntlet and closed his fist over it. There was the same kind of flash of bluish white light, but no expanding sphere of absolute cold like there had been before. His armored fist had stopped her power.

"Cool trick," the man with the gauntlet grinned at Zero Kay.

I clutched my crimson sword tightly and the blade began to glow with a faint red energy. Without a word I charged at him, thinking that I'd just have to take away his powerful gauntlet. But when I swung my blade at his gauntlet, it bounced off without any damage.

"No," I gasped in surprise, having to reevaluate just how powerful that thing was. After all my sword had been able to cut through solid steel with ease and hadn't even scratched the gauntlet. I grimaced, becoming even more determined. "If I can't cut through the metal...I may be forced to cut through flesh."

"Switch partners," I told Deadbeat who'd been wearing himself and his body out against the man with the gauntlet.

"Damn this sucks," Deadbeat grumbled, "I should be home playing my Wii..."

"When we're done here," Chrome called out to him.

Deadbeat then turned his attention to the woman in the witch costume, going straight at her. She just sneered and muttered something in a language I'd never heard. Suddenly a blast of green energy shot out of her hand and hit Deadbeat in the chest. He flew backwards with a gaping hole in his chest and remained motionless on the ground.

"Who are you?" I snarled furiously at the girl, forgetting all about the man with the gauntlet for the moment.

"I'm Ms. Bitch," she sneered at me. "Now you know who killed you..."

"I've been killed by much better than you," I snorted in disgust. Then I demanded, "I take it you know Ms. Witch of Faction Zero..."

The young woman froze and glared at me with an expression of pure hatred. "My mother..."

I gasped in surprise, certainly not expecting an answer like that. "Then why this...?" I gestured at her and the school, unable to understand how the daughter of a hero could become a villain...could be part of a plan to brainwash and mind control children.

Ms. Bitch just sneered, "Because I can..." Then she grinned evilly as she added, "And you should know that trying to compare me to my mother will only piss me off... After all I killed that bitch for a reason..."

"You killed Ms. Witch?" I gasped in shock.

Ms. Bitch took advantage of my momentary distraction to mutter another strange word and then fire a blast of green energy at me. Before I could move, something hit me and knocked me out of the way. I got back to my feet in an instant, bracing my sword to charge forward.

"Damn Channel," Deadbeat exclaimed, standing there with a whole through his chest. "Be careful..."

"I'm sorry," I told him, feeling guilty for my carelessness and promising to take better care of Channel's body.

"You'd better be careful with it," Channel whispered into my head, sounding annoyed. I couldn't blame her.

Suddenly a large metal gauntlet grabbed Deadbeat by the shoulder. "I guess I forgot to introduce myself," the big man grinned cheerfully, "The names Fist... I bet you can guess why. Let's shake..."

Then Fist squeezed, crushing Deadbeat's shoulder into mush and crushing all the bones. To my surprise, Deadbeat didn't scream or show any sign of pain, though he did look more unsteady than before.

"Body...too...damaged..." Deadbeat said before his body collapsed to the ground motionless, looking every bit like the corpse it was. However I had a feeling that this time he wouldn't be getting back up.

"You bastard," I snarled, furious at the sheer brutality of that act. I charged straight at Fist with my crimson sword glowing at full power.

Fist moved faster than I would have thought possible for him, blocking my sword with his gauntlet again. "Dude," he grinned, "Don't you learn...? You don't mess with the Fist.."

"And you need to learn not to mess with the Slackers," Chrome exclaimed, rushing forward with blades growing out of both his arms. He took a quick slash at Fist, but didn't seem to do any damage even when one of the blades hit the big man along his ribs.

"I'll be sure to remember that," Fist grinned, backhanding Chrome with his other arm...the one that didn't have the gauntlet. Chrome went flying back, smashing through some school windows and probably landing inside of a classroom. I just stared at Fist, realizing that his whole body was powerful and not just his gauntlet.

At that moment, Shokra suddenly fell from the sky, having been badly beaten and defeated by Nike. My temporary teammate loudly exclaimed, "VICTORY IS MINE!"

Fist turned to stare at his own fallen teammate and I took advantage of that to charge towards him with my sword blazing. He quickly rose his metal fist to block my attack as he had previously, but I was prepared for him. I shifted my balance and where I was aiming my blade. Instead of striking the indestructible metal...I caught his elbow right above the gauntlet. My blade met only faint resistance before slicing through. A moment later, the gauntlet and half his arm hit the ground while he screamed in pain.

"I hate having to do that," I said grimly. I hated using my blade against flesh, but I'd seen no choice. Fist was a dangerous man who'd been willing to do horrible things to children. Still, I couldn't take pleasure in the way I'd disarmed him.

Moments later I nearly wondered if Nike might somehow be related to the goddess of victory she was named for. Her cry of victory over defeating Shokra had been the first domino with all the others quickly falling as well.

Not only had I just taken out Fist, but seconds later Glamour Girl and Zero Kay defeated both Gaunt and Cortex. Glamour Girl had the perfect powers to defeat the Pearl of Night while Cortex was nearly helpless at the moment. His powers of mind control would have been frightening if there had been children here for him to use, but without them he might as well not even be a developed.

Nike didn't waste any time celebrating her defeat of Shokra. She dove straight at Ms. Bitch with a screaming battle cry. She looked fierce enough that I would have been nervous had it been aimed at me. However Ms. Bitch just sneered and said something in a weird language and a blast of purple lightning shot out of her hands and hit Nike straight in the chest.

"I don't think so," Nike exclaimed, showing a lot of bravado, but also looking relieved that the blast hadn't hurt her. It seemed that even she hadn't been sure her force field would protect her from that. "It'll take more than that to stop me."

"Then I'll give more," Ms. Bitch exclaimed.

A moment later a dozen thorny vines burst out of the ground and began to move towards us. I immediately slashed out with my crimson sword, slicing one vine off near the base. It did little good though as more vines sprouted up immediately and what I'd already cut off merely regrew.

"Damn it," Glamour Girl exclaimed as she tried flying up of range of the vines and then firing blasts of light at them.

Chrome came up beside me with the liquid metal on his body stretched out into sword blades from his hands. He slashed at the vines with two handed zeal though it did little good. Nike had extended the invisible force field around her into invisible blades on her hands as well and was doing the same with equal ineffectiveness.

Ms. Bitch laughed, "You hero types are always so much fun to kill..."

"I channeled Ms. Witch last month," Channel whispered into my mind, sounding disappointed. I guessed she was wishing Ms. Witch were here to fight her own daughter instead of me. After all Ms. Witch was certainly a lot more powerful.

"INCOMING!" Zero Kay yelled, throwing a ball of her white energy right into the middle of the vines. It exploded into a large bubble and vanished in an instant, leaving all the vines inside flash frozen and shattered. That was all the break the rest of us needed to take advantage of the situation before the vines regenerated.

Nike and I both charged straight at Ms. Bitch, but even as we did so I knew we were mostly the distraction. From the corner of my eye I could see Chrome coming at her from behind. I went ahead with my distraction, jumping out of the way when she threw a ball of fire at me and then grinning as Chrome slashed her along the side with his blade.

Ms. Bitch screamed and dropped to her knees, "It hurts..."

"GOOD," Nike exclaimed, kicking Ms. Bitch right in the face and sending her backwards. "Now stay down or we'll have to really hurt you..."

I turned away and let the others worry about Ms. Bitch now that she'd been taken down. Instead, I focused on the mind control device that hadn't even been used. Of course, if it was as much like the one that Lord Dark used as it looked, then it would take too long to charge up to be very useful in the middle of battle. In fact that was how I'd defeated him during the time Lord Dark had attempted to use it on me. I'd cut his device in half a split second before he'd been able to activate it.

"I think we can do without this thing," I said, slicing my crimson sword through the machine several times and leaving it in pieces. I felt a grim satisfaction as I did so. "I guess I'm done here now..." I sighed, feeling disappointed at that. In fact I felt as though something was missing. I felt as though I'd been promised something that hadn't actually been delivered.

"What about that guy we were warned about?" Zero Kay asked, "He wasn't here with these guys..."

"What do you mean?" I asked with a scowl.

Then I began to get more information from Channel though she was reluctant to share it with me. When the Slacker's had been given their anonymous tip about this attack, the tipster had said they only knew the identity of a single Black Guild member who was involved. The person who sent the tip told the Slacker's who was supposed to lead the assault...but the person named wasn't here and strangely enough Channel was still reluctant to tell me who that was.

"I guess that tip was wrong," Chrome said, bending over Ms. Bitch and causing his liquid metal to flow off his body and around her hands where it solidified into a form of hand cuffs. He'd already done something similar to her mouth in order to gag her and prevent her from casting any more spells.

"No," Glamour Girl shook her head, "the tip was dead on about these guys showing up..."

"Then we have one missing person," Nike responded with a grim look.

The Slackers were talking among each other and grumbling while I could feel Channel preparing to release me back to where I'd come from. I felt a bit sad at that, but was resigned to it. I was already dead and no longer belonged here among the living, no matter how much I might wish otherwise.

But just then, a new figure stepped around the corner and into view. He was tall and wearing a suit of very familiar black armor that caused me to gasp at the sight. I felt a cold chill run down my spine at the sight of Knight Fall...my murderer. That quickly turned to rage though, especially when I saw the sword in his hand that was identical to the one I was holding. However he was holding the original...the real crimson sword.

"Knight Fall," I snarled in a cold fury, now seeing what it was about this situation that had called to me from beyond the grave.

I could feel Channel wince in the back of my mind, feeling guilty for not telling me who they were expecting to face. But still, some of that knowledge had echoed in her call for help. At the same time, I had the vague sense that she was still holding something back...something she was trying to protect me from. However I shoved that thought aside, focused on my enemy.

"I am disappointed that my companions were defeated by virtual amateurs," the dark knight said in a grim voice, "But I can not leave them to you... The Black Guild still has a use for them..." There was something wrong with his voice. It didn't sound right, but I didn't care.

"KNIGHT FALL!" I yelled as I charged at him, swinging my sword.

The crimson sword that he must have taken from my dead body quickly came down and blocked my attack. It glowed with power and there was a flash of red sparks as the two swords met. The one I was using was only an echo, but it seemed to hold all the power of the original.

"I'm not Knight Fall," he sneered at me in a patronizing tone. His voice sounded eerily familiar, but certainly wasn't the one I was used to hearing from Knight Fall. "I killed him and took his armor. You can call me Blood Sword..."

The one calling himself Blood Sword swung that very sword at me with more strength than I would have expected. I quickly blocked his attack then lashed out with another one of my own. He moved with an effortless grace that revealed long experience and training with using a sword.

"I can see who you're trying to imitate," Blood Sword snarled mockingly, "but you're just a pale imitation of the real Red Blade..."

It was then that I took a closer look at my opponent, seeing that he might be wearing Knight Fall's armor and helmet, but he wasn't wearing the face plate that my old foe always wore. I could actually see the face of my current opponent and it was most definitely NOT Knight Fall. However it was a face that I recognized.

"NO," I gasped out in shock, "Stiletto...Chad..."

I stared in horror and disbelief into the face of my old sidekick...my old partner and friend. He was older...a grown man instead of the teenage boy I remembered, but it was definitely him. I couldn't grasp how Stiletto...how Chad could have ended up inside Knight Fall's armor and working with people like the Black Guild. It was unimaginable.

"I'm so sorry," Channel told me in my mind. She'd known that they would be facing Blood Sword and she'd somehow known exactly who and what he was to me. I could feel her grief on my behalf and knew that she was both trying to save me unnecessary pain and keep me focused on the real mission. "I wish it hadn't come to this..."

I could feel Channel preparing to eject me back to the void if I couldn't handle this, but I snapped at her, "Don't you dare. You called me here to help so let me do so..." I didn't have to verbalize my need to resolve this one way or another. She could feel my thoughts and emotions just as I could feel hers.

"Who are you?" Chad...Blood Sword demanded with a grim menace in his eyes, "How do you know who I am?"

I just stared at him for a moment, locking my eyes with his and giving him a steely gaze. "I'm the one who taught you how to use that sword," I told him grimly, "I'm the one who taught you how to fight. And even though this might just be a borrowed body...you KNOW who I am."

"Red Blade," he gasped, staring at me with the same look of disbelief that must have been on my own face. He looked as though he'd seen a ghost...which I realized was actually close to the truth. "Roger..."

"Channel can channel the dead," Glamour Girl called to Blood Sword, seeing the chance for me to talk him down. The others looked impatient, but followed her lead and stood back. "She can let the dead borrow her body..."

"I can't believe you would end up like this," I glared at Blood Sword, my words only hinting at the disappointment I felt. "I can't believe you would end up with people like the Black Guild... That's not the boy I knew..."

"Then you obviously don't know me very well," he responded, his voice and expression going cold.

I had a momentary impression that he was about to leap at me, but instead he held back, perhaps feeling the need to explain himself to me. After all I had been something of an older brother to him at one time.

"After you died," Blood Sword half sneered, "I tried taking your place as the new Red Blade. I tried continuing as a hero...until I realized the truth. All the cops and so called innocents were just as crooked and dirty as those you tried putting away. I've seen truly evil men pillage, plunder and destroy...all while obeying the letter of the law. All while hiding behind the law and being declared pillars of society."

"The law isn't perfect," I started to argue, "but it's better than..."

"No," Blood Sword snorted in contempt, "It's not perfect. In fact it's nothing more than an illusion to give the weak some sense of order and comfort. The truth is that society is rotten to the core. There's no real difference between the cops and the criminals. Between those you fought and those you saved. The only difference is that some are caught and some are better at hiding what they really are. Deep down inside everyone is the same. We're all only out for ourselves and our own concerns."

I could hardly believe the bitterness I was hearing from my old partner. His rant seemed less about explaining himself to me and more about rationalizing his behavior to himself. And from the darkness I saw in his eyes, I was sure that he actually believed this too. When Chad's parents had been murdered he'd been determined to stop Knight Fall and others like him...but he'd still been optimistic and confident that the law was right. Now there was almost no sign of that. Now there was only a fierce darkness.

"What happened to you?" I demanded, wondering what could possibly have made Chad change so. "And why would you wear THAT...Knight Fall's armor?" I glared at him, feeling betrayed at the sight of my former partner dressed like my greatest enemy...dressed like the man who'd murdered not only me, but his own parents.

"I killed Knight Fall," Blood Sword gave me a cold cruel grin that sent chills down my spine, "Then I took his armor for myself. I wasn't going to refuse something this useful just because of who wore it previously..."

I stared at Blood Sword and gulped, realizing just how dangerous he was now that he had both my sword and Knight Fall's armor. My crimson sword was magical and could cut through just about anything on Earth while the armor protected him from nearly everything...including the crimson sword. At full strength the armor was nearly indestructible. Its only weakness was that its power slowly faded when exposed to the light. The longer Blood Sword remained out in the open the more vulnerable he would become, but I had no idea how long it would take to drain the armors magic enough to get through it. That was one of the problems I'd always had fighting Knight Fall.

"For old times sake," Blood Sword told me, giving me a cold stare that lacked any warmth, "If you and your companions leave mine and go...I will not kill you. But if you stay..." He raised the sword and narrowed his eyes, "All bets are off."

I grimaced, shaking off my shock and meeting his eyes. "If you put down the sword and surrender now," I told him with a grim determination, "Then we won't be forced to hurt you."

Blood Sword burst out laughing, but it wasn't the kind laughter I remembered from him. "I'd forgotten how stubborn you could be. It's a pity I'll have to kill you now that you've finally come back, but you don't stand a chance against me now...especially not in the body of some little girl."

"I AM NOT A LITTLE GIRL!" Channel yelled angrily in my head though not a sound of it could be heard by anyone else.

Before I could respond to Channel's outburst, Blood Sword was in motion. He leapt at me, swinging his sword right at my head. I immediately blocked, causing a burst of red sparks to explode upon our swords meeting.

I grimaced again, my arm feeling just a little numb from the impact. I wasn't really sure how Channel's powers worked, but I was just as strong as I always was. I spite of the fact that I was in a smaller and weaker body than I was used to, I somehow had the same strength that I did in my old body.

"It's the same way I get people's powers," Channel whispered into my mind. "The same way I get their costumes and your sword..."

But in spite of the fact that I was much stronger than I appeared physically, I was still at a major physical disadvantage to Blood Sword. I was smaller and didn't have the physical leverage that my previous size would have offered me and he had the armor...magic armor which increased his strength by as much as a factor of 10. Of course, the amount of strength he possessed at the moment was determined by just how long the armor had been out of the darkness and exposed to sunlight.

Blood Sword attacked me again, but I redirected his sword and slipped out of the way. It was easier than taking the full brunt of his attack. I easily dodged several more of his attacks and began to realize how easily I was doing so. Since this was a new body for me, I should have been clumsy and unfamiliar with it. However Channel provided the answer to that question. Since I was sharing a mind with her, I gained her comfort and familiarity with her body. That was why her female body had felt so comfortable to me and why I was handling it so easily.

"Better than being clumsy and tripping over myself," I mused, realizing how much that little part of her power had to help all those she channeled. If she hadn't made them comfortable and at ease in her body then they'd be too off balance to be of much use to her.

I dodged Blood Swords attacks several more times and I continued to dodge, partly wanting to gauge how strong and skilled he now was and partly because I was hesitant to fight a former friend. However it was quite obvious that he had no such hesitation concerning me.

Just the, there was a blonde streak from my side and a yellow dog came out of nowhere, leaping right at Blood Sword. The dog snarled and growled, trying hard to bite through the armor without much success.

"Mongrel," Blood Sword snarled, being generous in a way. The dog looked horrible, all deformed and ugly. It reminded me of nothing so much as road kill.

"Deadbeat," Zero Kay called out, making me realize that this probably was road kill. Deadbeat must have found the nearest corpse available to inhabit...that of a dead dog.

"I didn't know he could do animals," Chrome exclaimed in surprise.

"I always knew he did animals," Zero Kay snickered.

Deadbeat provided a distraction, but only for a moment. Blood Sword swung the crimson sword and the mangy looking dog was suddenly sliced right in two, leaving Deadbeat to find another host.

I charged at Blood Sword, lashing out with my blade, but he was able to block my attacks. Chad had improved his swordmanship a great deal since my death. He used to have a knack with smaller knives...throwing knives especially, though there was no sign of him using any other weapons at the moment.

I felt a strong sense of deja-vu as I faced off against Blood Sword. The fact that he was wearing Knight Fall's armor made me think of my old enemy far more than my old partner. Of course, Knight Fall used a super dense mace that was too heavy for a normal person to easily lift. Only someone with enhanced strength such as that provided by his armor could wield it.

In spite of their similarities in appearance, fighting Blood Sword was quite different than fighting Knight Fall. Knight Fall was slow and relatively clumsy whereas my former partner was much faster and far more skilled. That made him much more dangerous than Knight Fall had ever been.

"Damn," I scowled, knowing that I couldn't hold back against Blood Sword if I wanted to win, but also knowing that I couldn't hurt Chad...even knowing what he'd become.

There was no doubt in my mind that I was at a major disadvantage here. We might be matched in weapons, but not only was Blood Sword bigger and stronger than me, he was also nearly invulnerable and didn't have sentimentality to hold him back. There was one other factor as well...Channel. I couldn't put myself at risk while I was in her body so had to keep playing defense.

"I'd always wondered what it would be like to fight you for real rather than sparring," Blood Sword said with a cold sneer. "Somehow...I'd always imagined you being much tougher. How disappointing."

Blood Sword and I stared at each other for a moment before we leapt back into action with a flurry of sword slashes. I was still more skilled than him thought he difference between our skill levels had narrowed drastically since the last time we'd seen each other. Unfortunately, his invulnerable armor and massive strength advantage more than made up for my higher level of skill.

"Why are we just watching?" Chrome asked from somewhere behind me in an annoyed tone.

"It's a matter of honor," Nike added.

"This is personal," I grimly muttered agreement.

This fight was personal...more so than any other I'd ever had during my life or after. I stared at Blood Sword with a cold knot in my stomach, knowing that I not only had unfinished business with Knight Fall, but also with him. I held no illusions and knew without absolute certainty that Chad was my responsibility. After all his parents had been killed because of me. I was the one who'd trained him and put him in the path that eventually turned him into the villain he'd become. The man standing before me was not only my enemy now...but my legacy. After all the good I'd done as Red Blade it shamed and disgusted me to realize that this was the twisted legacy I'd left behind.

I snarled and launched myself at Blood Sword with renewed vigor, powered by my own bottled up emotions that had no other way for release at the moment. Neither of us said a word as we jumped at each other, slashing and sweeping with our identical blades. Neither of us needed to as our moves spoke for us.

In spite of my renewed efforts, the fight was still uneven and becoming more so. I had to dodge and redirect Blood Swords attacks rather than blocking them directly due to the raw power behind his swings. Each time I deflected one of his attacks my arms would still ache from the force of the impact. I was becoming tired and sore while my opponent was remaining strong thanks to his magical armor.

In glanced back towards the waiting members of the Slackers, well aware that they would jump in to help me if given the chance. In fact most of them looked impatient with standing back and just watching while I fought. But I couldn't ask them to interfere... This was personal... This was a matter of honor... This was...

"No," I growled to myself though it probably didn't come out quite as threatening with my current female voice, "I can't sacrifice my life to stop him..."

"You'd better not," Channel said in my mind.

Back when I'd been alive, I would have been willing to fight him to the death...to lay down my life to stop a mad villain or save an innocent life. However that was no longer an option. I had nothing to lose on my own, but I had a greater responsibility than stopping him... I had to protect Channel...I had to keep her alive. I couldn't risk her life just to satisfy my own pride and honor.

"There's another way," Channel told me, sounding almost smug as she told me what she had in mind. "It was something you were thinking earlier..."

I grinned, "An excellent idea..." Then I called back, "Glamour Girl... I need you to blast him with your light..."

"Finally," Glamour Girl exclaimed, firing a beam of brightly colored light right at Blood Sword. Swirls of rainbow light smashed into him and around him as though it were water, but it didn't seem to do any harm to him whatsoever. "I was getting bored just watching."

"I see you have to have a woman do your fighting for you," Blood Sword sneered with condescension, "it doesn't matter who you have help you... I'll still win."

Blood Sword swung at me again, but this time I blocked the blade dead on. The force was still enough to make me stagger and make my arms hurt, but it wasn't nearly as bad as before. I grinned at that, suddenly sure that this actually would work.

"Do it again Glamour Girl," I called out.

"Sure thing," Glamour Girl exclaimed, firing another blast of her rainbow light at Blood Sword. Then for good measure, she fired yet another one.

I stepped back and watched for a moment with a grim satisfaction, knowing that Glamour Girl was doing a lot more harm to Blood Sword than it appeared at first glance. Her light blasts might not pierce his armor and damage him, but that wasn't my intention when I asked her to help.

Blood Sword laughed cruelly, reminding me far more of Knight Fall than my former partner. I blocked his attack with ease, pleased to note that there was no more strength behind it than that from a normal man. The armor drew its power from darkness and I'd just had it exposed to enough light to completely drain it of power. Now Blood Sword and I were now on more even footing, a fact which he suddenly realized.

"It doesn't matter," Blood Sword exclaimed grimly, "I'll still defeat you..."

This time when Blood Sword and I traded blows we were much more evenly matched. I blocked, deflected his attacks and launched a series of my own. I loved the look of realization on his face when he realized that I was still more skilled than him...even after all these years.

Then I finally breached his defenses and sliced my crimson sword right through his armor. He gasped in shock while I felt a surge of triumph. During all the years I'd fought Knight Fall, I'd never been able to catch him with his armor weak enough to cut through it. However I might have cut through the armor, but I'd barely scratched Blood Sword inside of it.

This clear indication that he was no longer invulnerable infuriated Blood Sword. He snarled and slashed at me viciously, seemingly forgetting what I'd tough him about staying calm and in control during a fight. His new attacks were vicious, but they were also sloppy and left an several openings that I immediately took advantage of.

I cut through his armor several more times, not going deep enough to really hurt him more than a few scratches. Then I shifted my blade and caught him in the arm, slicing deeply into the flesh. I didn't remove his arm as I did with the Fist or even cut to the bone, but I hurt him enough that he was forced to drop his sword which was my intention.

"NO!" Blood Sword exclaimed, a look of terror crossing his face as he saw my crimson sword coming at him again.

"Hold still," I glared at him as I swung my sword and expertly cut through the armor on his chest. "You hurt me... You've hurt me worse than even Knight Fall ever had..." I stared at him with tears coming to my eyes, disgusted by what he'd become and saddened by the thought of what he could have been instead. I felt betrayed and guilty as I started to swing my blade at him in a rapid series of slashes, each of them hitting exactly where I wanted.

After mere seconds, the Knight Fall armor broke apart and clattered to the ground in more than a dozen pieces. I'd been extremely precise in the way I'd cut it into pieces and I felt extremely satisfied to have finally done that after all these years. Blood Sword just stood there the entire time without flinching, staring at me with those cold eyes...eyes which no longer held any of the warmth or light I remembered. These weren't the eyes of my old friend and partner...these were the eyes of an enemy.

"Did you see that?" Chrome exclaimed in amazement, now wielding his own sword forged from his liquid metal. He stared at me with an expression of near hero worship, "Can you teach me how to do that?'

I ignored Chrome and focused my attention on Blood Sword...on Chad. He merely stared back and asked, "Now what?"

"Now you go to prison," Zero Kay said, stepping forward to grab him.

Chad merely lowered his head and offered no resistance when Chrome came to him and bound his hands in liquid metal restraints. He didn't even try diving for the crimson sword, though he easily could have. I wasn't surprised. If Chad still remembered his training, he'd know that there was no chance of escape now and that his best chance would be to bide his time until the opportunity came for him to escape. He would eventually...of that I was sure. But then it wouldn't be my problem.

I reached down and picked up the crimson sword...the real one. It felt good in my hand...like an old friend. There was something about it that seemed far more real than the summoned impostor I had been fighting with. Then with a sigh, I silently said farewell to it, knowing that I would never see it again.

At that moment, I began to feel dizzy and detached from my senses. I was aware of my costume vanishing from my body and transforming into something else...into Channel's usual costume. I'd helped stop the Black Guild and defeated Blood Sword so my business here was done. It was time for me to go. I could sense that Channel had already been pushing her powers to their limits just to keep me here as long as she had.

I quickly began to recede from the physical world, to pull back into the darkness I'd come from. I could feel Channel separating from me and becoming more distant as well.

"Thank you for giving me a chance to help one last time," I told her while I still could, "thank you for giving me a chance to deal with my unfinished business..." I felt a great surge of sadness and regret as I thought of Chad and what he'd become. "I just wish my legacy had been something better than ruining his life..."

Channel's presence seemed to draw closer to me again and her voice echoed in my mind. "He isn't your legacy... Not your real one. She is..."

"I don't understand," I responded. I would have frowned if I still had a body to do so with.

Just then I started to see images of a woman...projected to me from Channel's memory. She was an athletic woman with long strawberry blonde hair and with a red and white costume that looked a great deal like my own. The woman even had a pair of metal bracelets on her wrists that were creating red energy blades to fight with. It took me a moment before I realized who she was.

"Cynthia," I exclaimed in surprise as I recognized my kid sister, now a confident young woman instead of the teenager I remembered.

"I didn't know she was your sister," Channel told me gently, "All I know is that she was calling herself Red Blade when the Slackers met up with her a couple months ago..."

"Cynthia is Red Blade now?" I gasped. My eyes would have gone wide if I'd had a body.

"She's a hero," Channel assured me, "and she's good... She really saved our lives..."

Then Channel projected more of her memories to me and I saw images of Cynthia fighting alongside her and the Slackers. I was amazed at how well my sister handled herself and felt a huge surge of pride. This was what I'd always imagined Chad should have become...a real hero.

This was a lot to absorb and I had a thousand questions that I wanted to ask Cynthia. I wanted to know what happened since I last saw her...how she'd come to follow my path. But at the same time, I was well aware of the fact that I'd never get that chance. I was still being pulled back into the darkness from where Channel had called me.

Channel's presence drifted away from me again, her power to keep me there exhausted. That was all right though as it was time for me to go. I'd done what I'd been called for and had the great opportunity to see the legacy I'd left behind...mixed as it was. My disappointment in Chad was greatly offset by the pride I now felt for Cynthia.

I didn't know if Channel could still hear me, but I projected my feelings of gratitude towards her. I would be eternally grateful for the opportunity she'd given me...one that few others been granted. She'd not only given me a chance to come back and make a difference once last time, she'd also given me news of Cynthia. She'd given me the chance to feel this pride in my little sister and hope that my legacy would live on through her.

Then with what little strength and focus I had left, I whispered, "Thank you..." just before I was reclaimed fully by the other side.


THE END



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