It was a duel years in the making. Two peerless warriors from across the galaxy had chased each other across the globe, and ended their journey here. Pulp City was as perfect a stage for their confrontation, at once with the veneer of the pristine and yet so very corrupt. Filled with the greatest beings on planet Earth and its most vile and corrupt trash.
Stormblades could smell the salt air and hear gulls crying across the bay. His native planet was nothing like this place, yet he had always felt at home on Earth. Even here, beneath the great bridge with ocean bellow, sky above and surrounded by a web work of steel and concrete, he felt at peace.
His opponent waited calmly, his breathing regular and calm; like the Ulthar’s own. They shared a martial discipline few could match. There was respect here. There was honor. The Aquarius caste ruled the empire with an iron fist and ranted often about honor. They did not know its meaning. They mistook honor for glory and vanity. There was honor in a good fight, win or lose; though they could not see it. He knew the Gemini were behind this circumstance, the dominance of the Aquari, as much as any caste. They had blinded and bound the Ulthar to the will of the Aquarius. But it was not always so. The Libra caste remembered, and they believed.
To be Libra was to know discipline and stringent mental control. They were the first things they were taught; to control mind and body, so that they served you. A Libra learned to peer inward, instead of seeking for things in the material world. Few outside their caste had such talent or desire, especially in the ever corrupted Ulthar Empire. But Stormblades had felt immediately at home in the teaching of the Libra. He strove then as now for perfection. He had found his way here, using the vanity of Ra’Leigh to his advantage and was set loose upon the Earth, as free as any Ulthar could dream.
His true quest brought him into the lands of the Orient. He had searched ancient temples for clues. He had dueled with monks and warriors across those lands. Many fine fights had he fought, but he found no true challenges to his prowess. He had walked the Earth and had spoken with ancients and mystics seeking ever for the hint that would lead him to the Lost. Until at last his questing brought him to the attention of the Jade Cult. They held the secret he quested for. They knew, or thought they knew why he had come. He had made the deals, had killed for them. He had suffered the little dishonors asked of him to satisfy the whims of the Jade Cult’s overlord. It was nothing new. Men like the master of the Jade Cult had no honor he reflected, only greed and ambition.
In the end he was betrayed. Stormblades had expected no less. But it was his duty as a Libra that compelled him to try despite his expectations. That was when he first heard of Crimson Oni; perhaps the one man in the world who might be able to get him what he needed. That quest had taken longer. The Jade Cult had buckled from external pressure and Oni was at the center of it. Stormblades’ betrayal by the Cult came swiftly but lacked focus, allowing him to avoid ultimate sanction. A maelstrom of events within the Jade Cult was ignited by Crimson Oni’s sustained assault. Stormblades seized his opportunity to escape. His own freedom ensured he began the hunt for Crimson Oni; for only the Oni had knowledge of the Cult’s innermost workings. Finally he tracked the mysterious Crimson Oni down.
Pulp City was the epicenter of so much. He should have known to start there. Still the journey was worthy, but not without dangers. The Jade Cult had recovered quickly and hunted down the Ulthar with ruthless shadowy determination. In Pulp City he had been forced to make deals with Xyllian, that arrogant Sagittarius. From Xyllian’s connections with Mysterious Man, he learned of the shadow war between the Crimson Oni and Jade Cult. It took months to get close to Oni, but finally Stormblades found him. So it was that this challenge was offered, and accepted. Under the Bridge of Heroes at dawn, the two warriors would meet to decide the fate of worlds.
As the first rays of the rising sun broke the horizon Stormblades spoke, “Do you have the scroll honored human?”
“I do. And are you willing to do as I ask? Should I win of course?” the human smiled his crooked smile at him.
“I am Libra. We know the path of honor, and sacrifice. Should you best me, I am yours to call upon.” Replied Stormblades with a bow; drawing his blades.
“Then we begin!” Crimson Oni shouted. Flame burst into life from his clenched hand. Oni’s fists struck out again and again to be turned aside by the Libra’s blades. Stormblades launched his own assault; his rebounding blades whirled at Oni. With each strike Stormblades spun through the air dancing amid the support beams of the bridge. Oni countered and dodged but the Libra’s blades caught him again and again. Stormblades came to rest several yards away and saluted his opponent, with a snap of his blade.
The two faced each other across a distance. Stormblades summoned his will and unleashed a mental assault against the human. Stormblades’ mental challenge to the human assailed his lizard brain and provoked animal rage. Oni responded with fury, leaping from girder to girder, while Stormblades leapt forward to meet him. Oni’s fist flew at the Ulthar, wreathed in energy, but the Ulthar knew this trick, so he ducked low as his blade scored another deep cut.
But the human was quick; quicker than Stormblades expected. The Earth-man ignored his cuts, and struck with such speed that the air cracked. Stormblades was stunned and rocked back. ’Crack‘, again Oni’s fist struck. Again Stormblades was rocked backwards and still the human came on. Again and again his fists flashed as bones broke and skin tore. A final kick sent the Ulthar flying backwards; slammed into an upright he was stunned and bleeding. Oni stood panting, as his wounds dripped crimson onto the bridge. Stormblades gained his feet.
Silence stretched. The warriors stood staring at each other. They knew they must continue. Stormblades spun his blades, weaving them into the fearsome Kraken’s Guard. Oni poised himself, knowing he must strike, but knowing also that the aliens stance was too solid to provide opportunity. Oni circled left looking for firmer footing. The Ulthar paced him, seeking a weakness to exploit, finding little. Stormblades channeled his mental energy again, hoping to dominate the human’s spirit as he had before. His attack was rebuffed; Oni’s fighting spirit burning like a pyre in his mind.
Seeing the alien start as his mental assault was turned aside, Oni charged. He summoned the power of the elements and let them sheath his fists. He struck true and one of the alien’s blades went spinning away into empty air. His fist was poised at the Ulthar’s neck, energy burning the exposed flesh.
“I have won alien.”
“Have you?” asked Stormblades nodding his head downwards to where the point of his blade rested just bellow Oni’s sternum.
“So, what do we do?” asked Oni, that crooked smile appearing again.
“Human… the Ulthar do not submit. But a Libra knows honor. If we both have lost, neither of us can gain. If we have both won however…” the Ulthar did his best to mimic the shrug of a human.
“So you will come when I call?”
“I’ll need the scroll.”
“I too am I man of my word,” said Oni as he produced an elaborate jade scroll case from an inner pocket of his gi. It was covered in mystic runes so similar to the written language of the Ulthar that it could be no coincidence.
“This is the scroll of Atlantis. Proof of the ancient aquatic kingdom, and its dealings with ancient China. I must confess my curiosity. Why would an alien want to find Atlantis?”
“I have heard you humans say blood is thicker than water. Let us say that it is a family matter.” replied Stormblades, taking the scroll case reverently from Oni’s hand.
“So my friend how do I call upon you?”
Stormblades handed the human a small transmitter shaped like a shell.
“We are not friends. Ulthar do not have these things. You are an enemy. But you are an enemy of honor; that is a rare and special thing. I will treasure that…until my blades find your throat at last,” with that Stormblades stepped off the bridge, dropping into the cold waters below.