by Starsky Hutch 76
The Louvre was normally filled with tourists from all parts of the world who came to see some of the globe’s most prized art treasures. Today, it was deserted but for two hulking figures who had come to loot its contents. “I thought you said this place was filled with treasures, Mog!” one of them said. “All I see are a bunch of dusty relics. I was expecting jewels and precious metals.”
“These objects hold some value to the earthlings, Gorg, like these paintings,” the second Khund said.
“Bah! What do I care for art?” the first Khund snarled. “Do I look like a Tamaran to you?”
“No, of course not. You are not nearly comely enough,” the second Khund said. This sent both of then into jags of laughter.
“We could still get a pretty cred for these Earthling scribblings,” the second Khund added as he took a painting off a wall. “There are some, like those who watch Earthling transmissions on the Tweener network, who will buy anything having to do with their culture.”
“Halt, foul villain,” a voice suddenly commanded. “Unhand that work of art!”
The Khund’s eyes moved to the image on the painting of four musketeers and then to the speaker. Aside from a black mask covering his eyes, he was the spitting image of the historic figures on the canvas. He dropped the painting, removed his laser gun from its holster, and moved forward.
“What is this? Bringing a gun to a sword fight? Have you no honor?” the Musketeer taunted.
“He questions your honor!” the first Khund said.
“I heard him,” the second Khund said. “I don’t need a gun to deal with the likes of you.” He threw down his gun and drew his sword.
The two moved across the floor as the second Khund swung his sword wildly, and the Musketeer deftly countered each blow. “Your swing is strong, but lacks grace or skill, mon ami. That is a sword you have in your hands, not a hatchet.”
“Keep talking and I will pull out my axe,” the Khund growled.
“If you are as skillful with it as you are with your sword, I have nothing to fear,” the Musketeer laughed. To emphasize his statement, he flicked his sword and left a deep scratch on the Khund’s left cheek.
The Khund’s eyes grew wide with rage, and he launched forward. The Musketeer dodged out of the way, flicked his sword, and left a matching scratch on his right cheek. “I’ll carve out your spleen!” the Khund bellowed, spinning around for another charge. “You dare humiliate a soldier of Khundia?”
“Well, since you dare plunder my nation’s riches, of course!” the Musketeer said, bringing a tapestry down on the Khund’s head. He stumbled into the base upon which a bronze bust of Napoleon rested. It toppled over onto the Khund’s head, knocking him unconscious. The Musketeer turned to face the other Khund. His grin faltered when he saw that the other soldier had retrieved the fallen gun and had it pointed right at him.
Suddenly, there was a loud crack, and the Khund fell forward, unconscious. Behind him stood the Manhunter with his staff held in a horizontal position. “Manhunter, my good friend!” the Musketeer said. “I thought you would never get here!”
“Sorry,” Mark Shaw said. “I was held up by two of their buddies trying to make off with the Venus de Milo.”
The two of them bound the two Khunds for the police and then headed for the exit. The Musketeer clapped his arm around the red-and-blue-clad hero and said, “Manhunter, mon ami, I could use a flagon of ale after this hard work.”
“If you mean beer, I’m with you,” Manhunter replied.
If the youth assigned to Father Lucien had been intimidated by his demonic appearance, he seemed even more so by the angelic sight of Azrael. His hands shook as he leaned in to pour him a cup of tea. Azrael grabbed his hand to keep him from accidentally pouring the steaming liquid on him, and a yelp escaped from the boy.
“Calm down, lad,” Father Lucien said. “At first, I, too, thought he was an angel. He is but a man, the same as I.”
“Yes, Father,” the youth said, but his expression said he didn’t believe him. He lifted the tea tray and backed out of the room, staring at them nervously.
“Poor lad,” Father Lucien said, sipping his tea from a pitcher. “I think being my serving boy shall make him old before my time.”
“This place seems so familiar to me,” Azrael said.
Father Lucien looked at him and let out an amused snort that made smoke issue from his nostrils. “If you had been a resident of Notre Dame, I believe I would have remembered you.”
“Not this cathedral, perhaps,” Azrael said. “But there is so much about it that seems familiar… as if I had been somewhere like it.”
“C’est possible,” Father Lucien said. “You certainly look like an angelic warrior.”
“Perhaps that is what someone wanted everyone to think,” Azrael said. “I just wish I knew the truth.”
“Perhaps we can help you find it,” a voice suddenly said.
Father Lucien and Azrael turned to see a short, swarthy man clad in a suit and trenchcoat standing in the door. “Evening, mes amis. I am Dupin. I have a proposition for the two of you.”
“Are we all here?” Manhunter asked as he approached the heroes assembled upon the rooftop.
“Le Fantom is late,” Fleur-de-Lis said.
“Why am I not surprised?” the Musketeer said, smiling and shaking his head.
“He’ll be here,” the Crimson Fox said. “He’d never miss a fight.” She turned to Father Lucien and said, “I’m surprised to see you here, though, given your profession.”
“You mean my former profession,” Lucien said, spreading his large clawed arms. “I’m hardly in a position to be holding mass. I’d empty the pews very quickly, no?”
“You have a point,” she said.
“The Lord has found a new way for me to protect his children, as Le Gargoyle,” Father Lucien added. Azrael, who stood silently beside him, smiled at his friend’s ability to remain optimistic after everything that had happened to him.
“Did his winged messenger, here, tell you that?” a voice suddenly said. Azrael and the others turned to see the black-clad figure of Le Fantom walking toward them as he lit a cigarette.
“You’re late,” Fleur-de-Lis said.
“Apologies, mes amis,” Le Fantom said. “I had some business to take care of before joining you.”
“What could be more important than launching an offensive upon the enemy’s stronghold?” the Musketeer said, gesturing dramatically with his sword toward the large building across the courtyard from them.
“This,” Le Fantom said. Withdrawing a remote control from his trenchcoat, he hit a button, and the building suddenly exploded.
The Musketeer nearly jumped out of his skin. He turned to Le Fantom in horror. “All those people…”
“Those aren’t people,” Le Fantom said. “They are Khunds — the enemy. Or, should I say… they were. Dupin said for us to take out their stronghold in France. I have done that. Now, shall we stand here and make small talk? Or shall we go on about the mop-up?”
A look passed among the rest of the group that would now be known as Les Défenseurs. There was nothing more to be said. As they moved toward the stairway, all of them wondered exactly what Dupin of Department Gamma had led them into.