Liang Xih-k’ai knew that the smoke and chaos would conceal his abrupt change of clothing and hopefully protect his secret identity. He frowned as the idea that a free press might actually make his heroic life more risky due to the chance that a reporter might be able to expose his secret or publish his photo. Plus, his attempt to gain something of a higher political profile might make his civilian identity equally famous.
He saw the source of the explosion — an armored man was flying over the freeway and casually shoving cars aside or smashing sections of the road at will. The armor had a blue tint to it, but the bearded face that could be detected through the transparent helmet was far more striking than the coloration of his super-powered gear.
Takadi Sin-Lu! he thought. I should have known the old regime’s more notorious strongman would want to make a name for himself, even in times of progress and hope! He gasped as the hulking figure laughed harshly and drove his own body directly through the freeway without any sign of personal injury.
“He’s like a living tank in that armored suit!” cried Thunderlord. “But his rampage appears pointless, unless he means to embark upon some crusade of personal aggrandizement! His terror spree ends here!” He cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, “Takadi Sin-Lu! Cease your actions now or suffer a justly deserved punishment! You do not frighten me!” The hero’s words rang out over the city with a startling volume and clarity. Thunderlord could control his powers to such a precise degree that he could easily achieve remarkable volume without other residual effects.
Takadi Sin-Lu turned to face the smaller man in lighter blue, and he sneered with contempt as he said, “Bah! Thunderlord, you are not a myth or urban legend to me. I have studied your files, and I have long wished to crush you like the rabble-rousing flea you are!” He flew straight at Thunderlord, who focused his sonic power downward in a tightly controlled cone that lifted him off his feet and propelled him skyward. He could not match his armored foe’s dexterity or speed, but he could at least meet him on his own playing field above the city.
Thunderlord impacted on the armored man and was bounced downward at amazing speed. He whirled around and used his sonic shout to steer himself into a rough but otherwise safe landing.
“You see how superior I am to you?” boasted Takadi. “I could destroy you with ease. I could end your miserable life here and now, but I prefer to toy with you!” He dropped down with a crash and charged at Thunderlord as the smaller man tried to shake off his own injuries and fight back.
Before he could cry out, he was down. Takadi Sin-Lu had knocked him flat with one punch.
Thunderlord stood up and shouted at the armored titan, but his concussive blast merely drove the bigger man backward, completely failing to shatter his armor. “My equipment was designed to stand up to your shrill cries! In fact, I thrive upon them!” laughed the bearded villain. He punched Thunderlord in the stomach and then slapped him across the face.
Liang tried to concentrate and generate his own powerful sonic blasts, but he was hurting, and he was overwhelmed by the way the other man seemed to grow faster and stronger with every moment.
Still, he was a hero, and he did not give up without making an impressive effort. He screamed, seeing waves of visible sound smash into the grinning brute who stood over him.
The armor glowed for a moment, and then a fist smashed into his face, and he knew no more.
He woke up to find the darkness of night and the silence of the grave. He sat up amidst rubble and found himself nearly buried beneath brick and metal. I am alive, but I have been humbled, he thought. He left me here as a gesture of supreme contempt. Perhaps I deserved no better. Thunderlord shook free of the rubble and wearily walked into the night.
Liang Xih-k’ai’s mood grew more morose when he was approached the next day in his small office by a somber-looking man with a lined face and a balding head. “I regret that, in spite of your efforts, we have decided to offer our support to other candidates. It is not that we doubt your passion or your skill, but rather that we want to back a more dynamic choice.”
The words came from Xian Zhou-Ling. He was respected through all of Taipai as one of the most influential community leaders of the last decade. He was not one of Liang’s allies, but he was not an enemy, either. If he felt he could not offer the support of his group, then Liang had little chance of political success.
“We would offer you a place as a writer for our selections,” he said. “Your words and wisdom would benefit us greatly.”
Liang nodded slowly. “I would be honored to be of help in any capacity. We are working for the same goals.”
Later, after the two men had discussed matters in greater depth, the scholar had another shock. He saw Jiang Pao-Chen talking animatedly with a rugged but handsome young man, and he heard her speak to this newcomer in a flattering manner. “Dhow, you are so clever!” she said. “You will be an asset to the college!”
Liang turned away and hurried out of sight. I have lost her, he thought. She has found another who is more suited to her age. It was inevitable. I am also unwanted as a politician. Xian did not favor me, because I am lacking in appeal. In spite of the fact that I have always commanded the respect and esteem of my pupils and co-workers, I am something of a lesser man in the eyes of many.
He fretted over his defeat at the hands of the armored Takadi Sin-Lu and walked silently homeward. In spite of his depression, he was not truly a beaten man. It was his way of dealing with hardship to briefly blame himself before resolving to try again at whatever had led him to feel sorrow or loss.
Thus, after eating a modest meal in his home, he reacted eagerly to the news that the rampaging Sin-Lu was active once more. “This time, he shall find me prepared for him and his unique armor!” he vowed.
As Thunderlord, he flew skyward until he located the scene of destruction. Once more Takadi Sin-Lu was smashing things in an apparent campaign of terror.
“Fear me! Bow down to me!” roared Takadi. “I will return again and again until all realize that my power makes me superior!”
Thunderlord stepped out to face him and said, “I am a weakling and a coward who hides within a metal shell like the timid and sluggish turtle! I am worthy of neither respect nor common consideration!” The words echoed over the city in Takadi’s exact voice. His closest relation could not have detected a difference in the sound, nor could any electronic means have done so. Thunderlord could mimic any sound perfectly.
The now-furious Takadi Sin-Lu landed with a crash and charged at the smaller man. “I will destroy you!” he vowed. “You mock me, and that is something I will never allow!”
Thunderlord continued to mock him, leading the angry figure away from the city. Finally, they reached an isolated region where buildings awaiting demolition filled narrow and deserted streets.
The Global Guardian shouted at him with stunning, concussive force, but the armored figure barely slowed down. Instead, he seemed to move faster. “Your armor turns sound into an energy source that adds to your enhanced strength and speed!” he said. “I realized that too late after our last fight. Now I know how to beat you!” He stood his ground and screamed with all of his might.
As he did so, he released all of his frustration over his professional and personal losses in one astonishing blast that shattered the armor into brittle shards, leaving Takadi stunned at his feet. “I realized my best chance of victory depended upon my ability to overload your armor before it could turn my sound into your fury,” he said. “I had to shatter the armor with one all-consuming blast of sound that was too powerful for the armor to contain.”
Renewed by his victory as Thunderlord, Liang Xih-K’ai vowed to make equally impressive strides in his non-costumed life. He hurried through the streets until he reached Jiang Pao-Chen’s apartment, then knocked on the door and waited with anticipation.
Jiang opened the door and smiled as she looked up at him. “Liang, I am so happy to see you!” she said.
“I am glad to hear that, since I have wanted nothing more than your affection and esteem since first we met,” he said. “I know I am older and have little to offer, but what I do possess I willingly offer you. I offer my heart and my loyalty. I offer you all I may give or do! Jiang, I care for you. Would you allow me to see you socially?”
Jiang gasped and stepped back as Liang entered her home. “I do not know what to say! I care for you as well,” she said. “I feared revealing myself, because I imagined you to be above me. I thought I was a silly girl in your eyes!”
Liang smiled and said, “You are the best friend I have. I want nothing more than to get to know you better. I have wanted to say this for far too long.”
Jiang smiled warmly and asked Liang to sit down.
They talked until late in the night, and Liang’s smile only grew broader, as did his elation. Victory as Thunderlord and a chance for romantic success with Jiang makes me feel like a new man! he thought. I will challenge Xian Zhou-Ling! I will seek office without his backing!
Thus one victory brought new confidence to a hero. But little did he suspect that another unseen figure had engineered the entire battle with Takadi.