[Continuing from here and concluding the first scenario of the first online Hideouts & Hoodlums campaign.]
Dice headed out. He scanned the surrounding area to check if anything useful had been dropped by the cultists or anybody else in the chaos, hoping to at least salvage a little bit of a profit from this whole fiasco. He wasn’t going out of his way to search, though; the priority was to get out of the danger zone.
About three minutes later he stopped short. "Hey, what did he mean 'not human'?"
In separate groups, Gandor the Great, the Daoist, Alpha-Woman, and eventually even Dice Morgan carried their fallen comrades a safe distance from the temple. So, it was from a safe distance that they observed the terrific explosion as the top floor of the temple went up in a huge fireball. Dice, who did not find any loot while running through Roostertown, felt cheated of the chance to loot the temple later.
Within the next five minutes, the last of the shooting died away and only smoke rose from Roostertown and the Temple of the Rooster God. Just then, the man Alpha-Woman carried regained consciousness and weakly identified himself as Agent Rudy Malefor, one of the three missing FBI agents they had came here to rescue.
A minute after that, an autogyro rose above the ruins of the temple and flew away, heading east.
Soon thereafter, Captain Liberty, the Mountain Man, and Silver Scorpion all regained consciousness too. Within the next half-hour, the two groups discovered each other's presence in the forest and the heroes were all reunited, except for Sewer Rat.
Morale was low amongst the heroes, with many seeing their narrow escape as little better than failure. Gandor the Great stepped away from the gathering of heroes, turned and faced them. "So, we only saved one man out of three and lost a man in the process,” he said to everyone. “And most of us only survived by the skin of our teeth. But didn't we all get into this business knowing the risks? We'll recover from this mission, wiser, more experienced, and ready to do better next time. And I think we should all seriously consider working together from now on. Individually, we each could have stayed a bit player on the stage of crime fighting, but I've seen a lot of potential in all of you and know that we can have a huge role in crime fighting if we stick together. What do you say? Should we try this again as a team? As a tribute to Sewer Rat, if nothing else?"
Just then, Sewer Rat turned up, wearing his furry wet suit and weird-looking rat mask again. He looked more disheveled than ever and was limping, like most of them were. "Boy, it was hard finding my stuff in the wreckage," he said, "but I managed!"
Everyone shared stories about what happened to them on their adventure after people were separated, but the Daoist interrupted the Mountain Man and Silver Scorpion as they were in the middle of describing their last battle. "Excuse me," he said, "but we stiw’ need to contact the FBI."
Some strategies were discussed, but eventually the plan decided on was to return to Highland Township and see where a radio might have been hidden that allowed the cultists in town to contact the temple so quickly after their initial arrival. The tricky part was marching back to town faster than the returning villagers, while being careful to circle around them too. No one wanted to do it, as everyone was in terrible shape and most everyone needed hospitalization soon too, but there seemed to be little other choice after Sewer Rat explained the condition of the temple after the big explosion. Everyone was going to be abandoning Roostertown for the real town now.
Silver Scorpion had been thinking about Gandor’s speech and finally responded to it. "Yes, what a great idea!" she enthused. "As a team we can tackle much bigger crimes than we could alone. I, for one, was starting to get a bit tired of handling petty crooks anyway," she confided, "there is so much more to do! Sure…maybe we didn't quite accomplish *everything* we tried with the Rooster Cult, but I say it wasn’t bad for a first try. We can only get better, am I right? Who's with us?" she asked, beaming proudly.
But enthusiasm was slow in coming from the rest as they spent the rest of the day on the long march back to Highland. It was a horribly grueling, endurance-testing march that no one was hoping to ever repeat, but they all returned without incident that night and found the town hall abandoned. Inside, after breaking in, they did find a radio and used it to contact the FBI.
Afterward, Dice scratched his head. "So, did we win or what? What happened to those two yahoos that didn't make it?"
"I think it was just one that made it out alive, the FBI agent we came back with,” the Mountain Man said.
"I’ve also been thinking about what Gandor said, that if we are to act together then some of us need to, in fact, act together. Our first attempt was, in part, stymied by foolish and selfish aggressiveness." The Mountain Man looked somehow smaller after giving such a long speech, like the effort had weathered his features.
Silver Scorpion's eye narrow slightly at Mountain Man's phrase of 'foolish selfish aggressiveness'. Since when was aggressiveness a sin, she wondered. Heroes are simply those who take action! But she kept her thoughts to herself.
It turned out, Sewer Rat had salvaged more than his own possessions in the wreckage of the temple. He had, through sheer luck, found everyone’s personal possessions and acquired trophies that had been taken from them when they were captured.
The people of Highland Township returned in small groups, quietly and sheepishly. The Heroes on watch duty that night as the group camped out in town hall observed lights slowly appearing in the once-abandoned homes closest to the main street.
By morning, the FBI were there in Highland Township and Agent Fletcher himself appeared at town hall to meet them. “Great to see you all made it out alive!” he said, as if that had been in doubt when he sent them. “And thank you for saving Rudy. If not for you, he might have been killed when we moved in, if not sooner.”
Agent Malefor, who was still there, added, “It’s a shame we missed so many of the leaders and a real shame that we missed the Ultra-Humanite. That fiend has been at the top of our most wanted list since he – I mean she – tried to wipe out Cleveland with a plague back in December. And this is for you lot,” he said for the heroes’ benefit. “I talked to Fletcher by radio last night about the IRS agents who supposedly showed up at the temple earlier. He checked into it and the IRS was never involved in this. Those guys in the jeeps had to have been working for the Ultra-Humanite, maybe as part of a backup plan she had all along in case the deal for the temple fell through.”
After noticing the hasty bandages binding some seriously nasty wounds on most of the Heroes, Fletcher said, “We can give you all lifts back to Duluth and get you checked into the hospital there. We’ll look after your own vehicles until you’re released. We’ll dock the cost of your care out of your pay for the mission, but we can also keep an eye on things there and make sure no one on staff gives away your secret identities, if you want to keep them. Whether you want your names in the papers is up to you. The FBI is going to let what happened in Highland be public knowledge."
None of them were particularly bothered about if their identities were made public. After all, as Silver Scorpion later said, if this was going to be a full-time gig then they did not even need to keep their mundane identities anymore. Or at least that last part was true for Silver.
Silver Scorpion did call her boss, Dirk, though, concerned that he would be worried sick about her. She filled him in on the general details and explained the fact that she was recuperating in a hospital at the moment.
The rest of the first half of May was spent with everyone convalescing in St. Luke’s, Duluth’s premier hospital. Everyone’s rooms were close by each other and their proximity allowed all the heroes to socialize with each other over the next two weeks, and comfort each other before and after surgery to have bullets removed and wounds sewed shut. Agent Rudy Malefor was there too and became, officially, their FBI liaison. It was Rudy who informed Dice that his criminal record had been wiped clean. “Keep your nose clean,” he said, “and stay with this crowd. It looks like they’ll be good for you.”
Man Thing by Jim Cheung
19 hours ago