Noelle Avril remembered all these events in the blink of an eye as she struggled in the present and saw Professor Cadavéreux watching again as he conducted a new experiment upon her and another woman.
“You are awake? Good,” he said. “I want you to experience your death in every vivid detail. Your unique body chemistry has always eluded my attempts to duplicate it. Still, my newest protégé matches your blood type and other genetic data as far as is humanly possible. I had to shape her structure carefully through long years of tests and painful experimentation. Still, I think she will also gain your powers and live. I believe at long last I will have both a true child of my brilliance and my revenge upon you!”
Noelle noticed that the dark-haired woman was smiling even as pain shook her body.
“You wonder about me?” said the professor. “The chemicals you dosed me with almost killed me. Still, I survived and escaped, and nursed my wounds and my hatred for you. In some ways you have made me very proud. I deduced early on in your career that the woman who defended France so well was my creation!”
At that moment, Manhunter crashed into the lab and shattered the tubes connecting the woman. “Get away from her!” he shouted, firing the baton’s energy again and sweeping back several of the guards. “Fleur, are you hurt? I came as quickly as I could!” Guards rushed forward, and Manhunter cradled Noelle in one arm as he prepared to fight.
“Manhunter, we’ve got to stop meeting like this!” murmured Fleur-de-Lis as she struggled to regain her own balance. Whipping out a sharp shuriken, she hurled it across the room to slice through the hand of a sniper who aimed at them from above. He yelped and dropped his gun, even as Manhunter smashed his way through several other guards.
“I will not lose again!” said Professor Cadavéreux. “I know the lessons taught of years of suffering. I have my new successor, and I need nothing more from you but your death!” As he pressed a button, the lab erupted into flames.
“Manhunter, he’s crazy enough to destroy his own men to escape!” said Fleur-de-Lis, kicking a guard aside.
“I know,” said Manhunter. “Your pals told me more than I wanted to know about the freak. Let me get you to safety, and then I’ll bring him in!”
Fleur-de-Lis pushed him back and said, “I’m a big girl. I fight my own fights, though I appreciate the save!” Running forward, she flipped through the air over the flames to land safely beyond them, where she saw the old professor and his loyal female aide running ahead of her. “Stop! This ends here!”
Charging forward, Fleur-de-Lis gained on them. Even though the dark-haired woman clearly had gained powers and speed equal to her own, Noelle knew the professor slowed her flight. She tackled her and punched her as they struggled on the ground. “You are not going to get away!” she said as she wrestled with the other woman.
“I am Noir!” hissed the black-haired fighter. “That is the name my creator has given me!”
Fleur-de-Lis realized that she was facing someone who shared her powers, but she had beaten superhuman foes for years, and she would never give up. Elbowing her foe in the face, she backflipped to crash into Professor Cadavéreux. Recovering, he reached into his coat and drew out a vial of powder, twisted off the top, and raised it over his head.
Hurling a throwing star, Fleur-de-Lis shattered it so its contents dropped onto his head. He gasped as the toxin reacted with his skin, and Noir ran to his side, only to receive a stunning punch from Noelle. As she crashed to the ground, Noir was scooped up by Manhunter, who had vaulted forward through the smoke and fire to join the heroine.
“Grab him and let’s get out!” Manhunter said.
Fleur-de-Lis smiled as she connected with Cadavéreux with a spinning heel-kick. She caught him as he fell, and together she and Manhunter escaped from the burning chateau. They left the stunned pair in front of the chateau as lights filled the night and vehicles pulled up to the courtyard.
Sirens filled the night as police and fire emergency vehicles pulled to a stop and their crews jumped out to take charge. Adjusting his mask to use his telescopic night-vision sensors, Manhunter saw a few familiar faces from Department Gamma leading out the beaten Death’s-Head members. Noir and Professor Cadavéreux were among the bound villains.
Turning to Fleur-de-Lis, Manhunter said, “Dupin told me you had been grabbed. I had to help. I owe you so much. I mean, I owe you for more than just taking down Déjà Vu. I have a lot of ground to recover in terms of mending relationships that the cult cost me, but I think I’ll start here. I’m staying in France, if you don’t mind.”
Fleur-de-Lis hesitated, then leaned in to embrace him. “I think this might be the start of a beautiful friendship. You see, I’m still a fun date!”
Manhunter nodded, and behind the impassive mask, Mark Shaw smiled.