Chapter 1

Cop has been with us for only three days now, but already he seems to be working out just fine, Sean mused.  Currently, it was just after seven in the morning and Cop, along with the rest of Beta Squad, was out on patrol.  Sean was on monitor duty with Jay, who had come in seventy minutes before. 

Sean leaned back in his chair as he watched the main monitor.  Jay was doing the hourly manual check of all the interior cameras in the base.  Sean watched as the various pictures flicked by, one by one. 

In the basement, Ryan and Wil were working out with the weights.  All the other basement cameras came up negative.  Jay then methodically went through the ground floor.  In the training room, Ruben was monitoring James as he went through the program.  Again.

Sean's mind drifted as the scenes kept clicking along.  James had easily spent the most time of anyone in that training room.  He was in there at least three times a week.  Of the top ten scores, James had fourth, sixth, seventh, and ninth.  He was fourth to Bounty, Cop, and Sean himself.  Sean also had fifth.  Eighth belonged to Tyler and tenth was currently reserved for Clayton.  But more likely than not, James will kick Clayton off the top ten altogether with today's session.  

As the monitor showed the huge crime lab that so far had seen little use, Sean's thoughts drifted back to the infamous Marksman, now residing in, hopefully, an uncomfortable jail cell.  How he had gotten into the crime lab had puzzled Sean.  He had gone over the camera files and discovered which window Marksman had come in.  It was odd enough that the window had been unlocked.  That had prompted him to analyze the window itself.  It was then that he realized the second problem: the window had not been made with dual purpose glass.

Dual purpose glass served two purposes, hence the name.  One, it was breakaway, so that in an emergency it could be popped out in one piece from the inside.  From the inside.  That was the key.  It could be broken through from the outside, too.  But not with a regular gun or even with a regular laser as it was the strongest glass possible, not just bulletproof but small-arms-proof.  But even if one managed to make even the smallest hole, the clear, electronic board that was situated within the glass would also be punctured, sounding an alarm, which is why all of the windows were sealed electronically, requiring a call to the communications room even to open one.  At least, that was the theory.

Of course, Sean had been told all of this and that the contractor, Infinity Construction, had installed that particular type of glass, so he thought he had had little to worry about.  Except that the one window that didn't have dual purpose glass on it, the southeastern window in the crime lab, was, by pure chance, the one that Marksman had picked to open.

The two remaining members not accounted for, Jesse and Brent, were evidently in their respective rooms, sleeping.  Though there were cameras in each room, as well, by default the Bishops left those in standby mode.  They did a weekly verification to ensure that the cameras still worked, but otherwise left them off.  Jay finished the manual search and set the cameras back on automatic.  He leaned back in his seat and then swiveled to face Sean.  Jay stared at him for several seconds.

Sean had his fingers steepled and stared back, leaning forward in his chair.  Suddenly, Jay blinked and turned back to the control board.  Sean smiled and leaned back in his chair.

"I got something in my eye," Jay complained.

"Weak excuse," Sean commented.

Jay turned back, his left eye tearing.  "It doesn't prove anything you know."

Sean smiled again.  "But it doesn't disprove the fact that you are a lot worse than I am in stare-offs."

"I've beaten you before," Jay pointed out.

Sean shrugged.  "How many times?  Two?  Three?"


"Four.  I've beaten you dozens of times.  What I can't fathom is why you keep doing this to yourself," Sean wondered.

Jay shrugged.  "Hey, maybe it's just because I'm tired," he said, stifling a yawn.

"You've been tired a lot lately."

Jay shrugged.

"And you've been spending a lot of time in the lab, too," Sean said, letting a note of suspicion enter his voice, though smiling slightly.  "What are you up to in there?"

Jay grinned.  He leaned forward.  "It's a secret," he said in a stage whisper.

Sean winked and gave him a thumbs-up.

Jay spoke up again.  "There's something I've been wondering about."

"Speak and I may answer."

"Back at the end of March, after that whole Belsky incident, I had a question that I never got around to asking."

Sean raised his eyebrows, indicating that Jay go on.

"Before we even knew he was involved, or even knew what he was, me and Ruben went to the Hilt."

Sean nodded, his eyes squinting as he thought back five months to that time.  

Jay continued.  "Anyway, the receptionist wouldn't give us the guest list.  So I called you and you talked to her, and the next instant we had the list."

Sean smiled as he remembered.  Then he noticed that Jay had stopped speaking.  "Yes?" he prompted.

"What did you say?"

Sean closed his eyes as he tried to remember.  Then the memory instantly popped into his mind.  "Oh.  I just gave her my old code number and said that you were on assignment from Michael Davidson.  A little white lie, I realize.  But it had the desired effect."

Jay nodded.  "That wouldn't have done anything for me."

"Well, you have to realize that there are several people that are major moguls in the business world, be it Chicago, New York, or Kewanee.  But it takes a very major and public person to be well known to the nation at large.  Michael Davidson was not one of those.  But he was well known in the business world.  Plus, more importantly, he owned the Hilt."

"So, of course she knew who the top boss was."

"Right.  And if she hadn't, I would have just asked to speak to a supervisor."

Jay nodded, smiling slightly. "I've been wondering about that for months.  Thanks for clearing that up for me."

"Sure thing," Sean said, turning back to the board.

Chapter 2

Tyler leisurely drove down Main Street in the Kewanee district at forty miles an hour, five under the limit.  Cop sat next to him in the passenger seat.  Tyler was still slightly unnerved by the big, bulky man's mask.  The  shoulder spikes also did little to sooth his nerves.

Clayton was in the cannon seat, Karl was manning the control board, as usual, and Scott was seated in the very back of the van, next to the back doors.

"Quiet day today, huh, Cop?" Tyler said.

"Very," Cop said.

Very talkative today, aren't we? Tyler thought, but refrained from saying.  Cop had only been with the team for three days, but he was working out well enough, even though he wasn't very talkative.

A few more minutes went by as Cop and Tyler sat in silence.  He could hear some light banter in the back end but couldn't draw Cop out.

"Why, exactly, do you wear that helmet?" Tyler asked.

Cop turned his emotionless mask to face Tyler.  Tyler turned his head and looked back at the road.  "I don't see how that's any of your business," Cop said.

"Just thought I'd ask," Tyler muttered.

"Tyler!" came Karl's voice from the backseat.  "We got some trouble on South 18th Avenue, just off West 5th Street!"

"What kind of trouble?" Tyler called back.

"Unspecified.  It was an anonymous call for help."

Tyler nodded and turned off at the next street, which happened to be South 18th.  He drove the five blocks to the alleged disturbance quickly.  "Where did the call come from?"

Karl, who had the traced call pinpointed, called back to Tyler.  "Pull over at number 546."

Tyler pulled the black van across the street and east two houses from the call site.  He turned the vehicle off.  To his right, between two houses, he could see a line of trees off in the distance.  He found something about them familiar, but he didn't have time to worry about that now.  He pulled his attention back to the matter at hand.  "Well, let's investigate," Tyler said.  "Cop, you and Scott go to the back, and Clayton and Karl, you go to the front."

Scott and Cop quickly got out and, despite their big size, quickly and quietly crept to the back of the house.  "What are you going to do?" Clayton asked Tyler as he exited behind Karl.

Tyler turned in his seat to face Clayton.  "I'm going to stay here, just in case."  We don't need any solo artists getting in trouble, he thought to himself.  This is one issue with having an odd number in your squad.

Clayton nodded.  He then took the lead with Karl following as they went to the house in question.  Clayton boldly stepped up to the door and knocked.  No answer.

He knocked again, louder this time.  By this time, Cop and Scott should be in the house.  Still no answer.  Remembering how much he hated answering unspecified calls for help, Clayton tried the door.  It was unlocked.  He pushed it open cautiously.  "Hello?" he called out, tentatively.

Clayton motioned for Karl to follow him in.  They passed through the foyer and quickly scouted out the downstairs.  No one in the living room.  No one in the den.  No one in the kitchen or any of the other rooms downstairs.  Clayton started getting suspicious.  And worried as to the location of Cop and Scott. 

Suddenly there was a yell and a loud thumping sound.  Clayton and Karl rushed back to the staircase and leapt out of the way as Cop came tumbling down the stairs, his spiked shoulder pads coming off as he did so.  Clayton was very wary of anything or anybody that could send Cop tumbling like that.  The chances of him slipping, after all, were very slim.

Clayton went over to make sure that Cop was all right and hadn't broken his neck in only his third day on the team.  As he approached, Cop sat up and shook his head from side to side.

"I was blindsided," Cop stated as Karl and Clayton helped him stand up.

Clayton nodded and looked up the staircase.  "Where's Scott?"

His question was answered as he heard the sound of a shattering window.  On the porch above their heads, they heard thumping.  "Bring it, Scott!" Karl said.

"Unless that was Scott," Clayton stated.  "Karl, you and Cop check out what's going on out there.  I'm going upstairs."  Karl and Cop rushed out behind him as Clayton took the stairs three at a time.  He reached the top and rounded the corner.

As he watched, Scott stumbled back out of a nearby room.  Clayton caught him before he could fall.  "Big guy in there," Scott murmured as he caught his breath. 

"I'll get him," Clayton said.  When he entered the room, he saw a sweating, heavily breathing man in there.  The only way he could have hurt Scott was to have beat him with the baseball bat in his hand.  In one corner of the room were a woman and a man, both tied and gagged.  The man was more heavily beaten and was bleeding out of the corner of his mouth.  Evidently he had either put up a lot more resistance than the woman or had been the one to call the police.

Clayton advanced on the intruder.  He took up a fighting stance.  Clayton lashed out with a punch and connected solidly with the man's head.  The intruder stumbled backward, still brandishing the bat.  He swung it at Clayton's head.  Clayton easily ducked the bat from the woozy man.  Then he advanced again.  He punched the man in the gut and then knocked him unconscious with a right uppercut.  The man slumped to the floor. 

Scott had reentered the room.  He and Clayton went over to the two victims, untying and ungagging them.

"You came!" the man exclaimed.

Scott and Clayton helped them both to their feet.  Clayton nodded.  "What happened?"

"Well," the man began, "we had decided that we'd start early working on the house when this man and woman came in.  They were demanding money.  We let them tie us up.  Then they brought us up here, into the bedroom.  When they weren't looking, I called the police.  Then they hit me."  He paused.  "You aren't the police, are you."  A statement, not a question.

"No," Scott said, tapping the Checkwolf shield emblazoned in relief onto his charcoal grey uniform shirt, "we're from Checkwolf.  Right now, though, call the police again and tell them to come over and pick up this guy.  And the girl, too, if they got her."  Clayton stood up from binding the intruder male.  "And sorry about your window," Scott said in an apologetic tone.

"We're just happy you stopped them and we didn't lose any more," the woman said, putting her arm around the man.  "The window can be fixed."

"Well, let's go see how Cop and Karl are doing," Clayton said.

Karl Dexter and Cop ran out of the house as they heard Clayton run up the stairs behind them.  Karl was worried for Scott, but when they exited, no one was in sight.  They looked up at the roof and saw a woman who promptly jumped down lithely from the roof, landing between Cop and Karl.  They circled her, intending to use a two-pronged attack.  But Karl attacked first and ended up running head first into the woman's foot.  He stumbled back and hit the ground, out cold.

Cop chose that opportunity to attack.  The woman dove out of the way as Cop aimed a kick at her.  "You would hit a woman?"

"Gladly," Cop said as he swung at her, the blow a glancing one off her face.  She shook it off and kicked Cop's legs out from underneath him.  Cop tumbled to the ground, marveling at her resistance and agility.

They squared off, circling each other, feinting.  Suddenly the door behind Cop swung open.  Clayton and Scott came out of the house and, in doing so, momentarily distracted Cop.  The woman quickly kicked Cop in the stomach, doubling him over.  She then turned and ran for the line of trees. 

Clayton and Scott instantly sprang into action after her, and Cop followed behind scant seconds later.  But as she hit the street running, all three noticed that they weren't gaining any on her.  Clayton and Scott were stunned by the speed at which Cop moved, considering his muscular bulk.

But despite his speed, she was widening the gap.  They were ready to give up when Tyler burst out from the van in front of them and sprinted after her, which in turn strengthened the resolve of the other three.


Tyler saw the woman sprinting across the yard and into the street.  He leapt out of the van and ran after her.  She was quick; he had to give her that.  She was also evidently running for the line of trees that Tyler had spotted earlier.  He still found them disturbingly familiar but pushed the thought from his mind as he drove his body to go faster after the lithe woman who was almost to the trees.

Tyler had almost closed the gap between them when they entered the trees.  He heard her scream as he saw her disappear.  Finally Tyler placed the familiarity and skidded to a stop, inches from the edge.  He looked down and saw that at this point, the bottom of the Ravine was twenty feet from the top.  The woman was lying, still, at the bottom.

Tyler heard Cop, Scott, and Clayton come up behind him.  He pointed at the woman below.  Then the four went down into the Ravine.  Cautiously they picked their way down and finally arrived at the woman.  She was alive, but unconscious and with a weak heartbeat. 

Just as they were preparing to lift her up and take her out, they heard movement all around them.  They looked up and around and saw a dozen or more people standing around them, surrounding them on every side except the upper bank from which they had come.  None of them were in any kind of uniform-they all wore street clothes-but all did have some type of mask covering their faces, whether it be a handkerchief tied to a ballcap or just oversized sunglasses, as one man was wearing.  Tyler made a quick hand motion to Cop and Clayton.  Cop made a slight nod. 

One man broke away from the rest of the pack.  He was clothed similarly to the rest of his group, in tanktop, shorts, and boots with a baseball cap on his head and a bandana around his nose and mouth.  "What are you doing here?"

"We were chasing this woman from over there," Tyler said, pointing in the general direction of the house.

"So you were involved in what was going on over there." The figures moved in on them slightly.

"Wait a minute," Tyler said.  "You've got it all wrong."

"I don't think so," the burly man said.  He made a quick motion with his hand and all the figures closed in on them.  Just before they were there, though, Cop and Clayton broke away and began scaling the wall.  The big masked man looked up.  "Get them!" he ordered.

Four figures broke away from the rest of the pack while two others pulled out bows and strung arrows.  "Go!" Tyler shouted.  That was the last thing he remembered as the masked leader punched him hard across the jaw, downing him.

Scott watched as Tyler went down and decided to keep his encouragement to himself.  Cop was near the top and Clayton was maybe six feet from it.  Three men and one woman, dressed mostly in jeans and T-shirts, were climbing after them, arrows imbedding themselves in the earthen wall around Cop and Clayton.

Cop pulled himself over and started sprinting away.  An arrow clinked against the back of his helmet, and then he disappeared from view.  Just as Clayton was about to pull himself over, another arrow buried itself in his thigh.  Scott corrected himself.  The arrow wasn't buried, since it fell back out.  Hope was in Scott, until Clayton wavered slightly and then fell backwards off the slope.  He fell into the man who was just below him and they both hit the ground hard, unconscious.

Scott realized that the arrows were poison tipped.  "He'd better not be dead!" he heard himself saying to the leader as the remaining three on the slope reached the top and sprinted off.  Then he realized that he should have kept his mouth shut.

"Keep your mouth shut!" the man bellowed, punching Scott in the gut hard enough to double him over, bringing his face low enough for the man to comfortably reach.  He then felt darkness falling over him as the ground rushed forward.  He fell, unconscious.

Cop ran his hardest as he tried to return to the van.  With a quick glance over his shoulder, he determined that three people were chasing him.  But they were quite a distance behind him.  He looked forward again to see Karl running toward him.  "Get back to the van!" Cop yelled.

Karl instantly turned and ran back to the van, jumped into the driver seat, and started it up.  Cop then saw the door swing open on the passenger side.  Another glance confirmed that the three were closing the gap.  Cop was almost to the van.  They were almost on him.  Finally, he jumped into the van and slammed the door.  Karl instantly floored it.

Two of the figures were left behind.  Cop saw that the third, a man wearing a dingy black muscle shirt, tattered blue jeans, and a mask made of what appeared to be a shirt with eyeholes cut out, was hanging on the outside running board.  Cop opened the door.

"What are you doing?" Karl yelled.

Cop got out and edged his way along the board.  He lashed out with his foot and dislodged the unwanted rider.  The man fell to the ground, rolling, then stood up as he watched his prey speed into the distance.


"Where is he?"

"We couldn't catch up with him."

The big masked man slammed his fist into his open palm.  Then he regained his composure.  "At least we got four of them," he said, gesturing to Tyler, Scott, Clayton, and the woman.  "Let's take them back."

Chapter 3

"This is not good," Sean mused as he looked at the visage of Cop.

"What should we do?" Cop questioned.

Sean leaned back in his chair to think it over.  Jay came back into the communications room with a cup of coffee in hand.  "What's up?" he asked.

Sean swiveled in his chair to face Jay.  "Cop says that Tyler, Clayton, and Scott were captured by a dozen or so figures in black clothes and masks."

"Where at?" Jay asked as he took a sip of his coffee.

"The Ravine."

"Really?" Jay asked, eyebrows raised as he turned to look at Cop as well.  Cop nodded.  "What are you going to do about it?" Jay asked Sean.

"That's what I'm thinking about right now," Sean stated.  

Jay nodded and took another sip of his coffee.

Sean then sat up quickly.  "Here's what I want you to do," Sean said to Cop.  "Come back to the base as quickly as possible.  I'll get Alpha ready to go and then you and Karl can go back with them to the Ravine, and see what's going on."

Cop nodded.  Then the screen flicked back to a grid of Kewanee.  Sean reached over and touched the intercom button.  "Alpha squad.  Prepare to leave on an emergency mission in five minutes.  Repeat, prepare to leave on an emergency mission in five minutes."

Sean and the members of Alpha squad were in the garage when Karl pulled the van into it.  Sean went to Karl's window while Alpha loaded themselves into the van.  "Attach this bug to your jacket," he said, handing the tiny electronic gadget to Karl.  Karl placed it on the collar of his jacket where it immediately adhered itself.  "This will allow us to keep track of you from the base."

Karl nodded.  Making sure everyone was ready, he made a brief wave/salute to Sean and backed out of the garage.  Sean spun on a heel and went across the hall, back into the communications room.

"The Ravine encompasses an area of approximately twenty-five square blocks," Ryan was saying as a grid of Kewanee came up on the monitor.  They were parked in the van, across the street from the Ravine.

Ryan tapped a few buttons and one section of the screen further enlarged.  On the screen now was a picture of the Ravine.  "As you can see," Ryan said, "the Ravine starts small, at the back of the Air Filtration Center, but it steadily widens and deepens until it is as wide as a highway through here," Ryan said, pointing to the approximate center of the map.  "According to Karl and Cop," Ryan continued, "the other members of Beta were captured here," he said, pointing to the southeasternmost area of the screen.  "We're going to use a two-pronged approach.  I'll lead Wil and Brent to this point," he said, pointing at a spot about a half-mile from the capture site.  "James, you'll lead Karl and Cop to the capture point and progress in an easterly direction from there."  He paused, looking around.  "Any questions?"

There were none.

"Let's do it."

James, Karl, and Cop silently and quickly slid/stumbled down the slope at the original capture point.  Of course, by now the four that had been captured were gone, along with the mysterious people.

James pointed to the east, where Ryan had wanted them to go.  Keeping to one side, they quickly but cautiously made their way down the Ravine.

Ryan held up his hand for Wil and Brent to slow.  He peered through the foliage to the Ravine below.  It was clear.  He then motioned for them to follow him through.  After reaching the ground, they proceeded along the Ravine in a southeastern direction, following it as it reversed direction entirely.  A short while later, they came to an intersection.

"We seem to have just come off a subsidiary branch of the Ravine," Ryan said quietly to Wil and Brent.  "Any suggestions on which way to go?"

"Left," Wil said.  Brent nodded his assent.

Ryan nodded.  "Left it is."

"We seem to have come to some sort of a clearing," James said as his group halted.  They were facing a widening in the Ravine that had a diameter of between one hundred fifty and two hundred yards and was mostly flat, as opposed to the rest of the terrain they had been walking through.  There were numerous footprints in the dirt. 

"See those indentations in the wall over there?" Cop asked.  The other two nodded.  "Those are from weapons: knives, swords, things like that.  This would appear to be a type of training area."

Karl spoke up.  "So maybe they were training when you guys showed up."

"That's what I was thinking," Cop affirmed.  

"Well, they don't seem to be here now," James said.  "Let's keep going."

They skirted the clearing, along the edge.  Another few hundred yards and they came to an extreme narrowing of the passage.

"This almost looks like it was dug out," James commented.

Cop nodded.  "Probably the Ravine severely narrowed here and continued wider on the other side."

"Or maybe this is where the two branches met," Karl guessed.  "Either way, they dug through to make it easier to travel along."

"Probably," Cop said, nodding.

The Ravine was still wide enough to walk through without difficulty, but Cop could easily stretch his arms out to either side and touch the edges.  About two hundred feet later, it widened normally again.

Five minutes later, they came to a junction.  "We seem to have come to a subsidiary branch of the main Ravine," Cop said.  Pointing to the wide stretch before them, he said, "My guess is that this is the 'main drag,' so to speak, of the Ravine and we're just on a tributary."  Even though it was the widest section of the Ravine, by no means was it as level as a highway.  Years of erosion, landslides, and undergrowth still made it treacherous walking.

Karl glanced left and right while James absorbed this information.  "So which way?"

To the left, the Ravine curved south, and to the right, it went north-northeast.  "Right," James said.  He motioned for the other two to follow him.

"Evidently, this was just another subsidiary of the main," Ryan said as he looked around the corner; the coast was still clear.  Without a debate, he decided to go right, since he knew that to the left was the general direction of the Johannsen Processing Plant, another original contributor to the Ravine.  The Ravine was, in actuality, more of a maze, consisting of disused drainage ditches, old excavation sites, dried-up tributaries, and, apparently, an aborted attempt at strip mining coal.

After walking about the width of a city block, they came to another junction.  The width of the Ravine in front of them was at least two hundred yards, if not more.  They were also about fifty feet below ground level, Ryan judged by glancing above him.  As he turned his head to the right, he saw three figures approaching.  "Get back!" Ryan hissed as he pressed himself against the earthen wall.

"Wow," Karl breathed.  He was staring at the width and depth of the Ravine at their location, along with the impressive show that the plant life put on.  It was breathtaking.  "Which way now?"

"Left," James said, pointing.  "There seems to be another tributary branching off of this."

"And this is obviously the main section of the Ravine," Cop added.

James nodded, looked both ways, and saw no one.  "Let's go."  They kept to the southern edge of the Ravine wall and briskly walked, keeping their eyes peeled for any hidden foes along the immensity of the glorified drainage ditch.  Cop noticed that there was a large branch going off to the left.  He motioned to James, a request to lead.  James nodded and fell in step behind him.  Cop slowed, in case someone was around the corner.  He edged up to the side and looked around the corner.

Ryan looked back to his right and saw a gruesome-looking mask in his face.  "Aaaahhhh!" he screamed.  The figure reached out to him and grabbed him.  That was when Ryan realized that it was Cop.

"Sorry," Cop said in his quiet, deep voice.  "I didn't mean to startle you."

"Don't worry about it," Ryan said, breathing heavily.  "My heart'll start again pretty soon."

Cop nodded and then pointed around the corner, to the left.  "We were headed over there, for that branch of the Ravine."

Ryan glanced at James, who nodded agreement, then looked to where Cop had pointed, and nodded.  "Sounds like a good idea."  He motioned for everyone else to follow him.  When they had covered approximately half the distance to the other edge, five masked figures materialized in front of them from behind bushes and inclines.  The Checkwolf members whirled and saw five more behind them, three women and two men, similarly garbed, uniform in their nonuniformity.  Some wore swords on their belts and others had various knives on them; all had some sort of blunt weapon attached to their person.

"Quite a predicament, is it not?" came a booming voice from up above.  All the Checkwolf members looked up.  Standing above them on the slope was a very imposing man.  He had a helmet of some sort on his head, with a large Chinese character on the brow, chain mail draped from the sides, and a guard covering his left eye, leaving his right one visible.  He also had a contraption on his left arm, with a metal claw on the end of it.  On top of this, he was very muscular.  On either side of him were three more figures in street clothes, bulky, but not nearly as much as the center man: one had nunchaku that he was twirling impressively; another had a whip which he periodically snapped and a dark piece of cloth covering all of his facial features, save his eyes; and the third had a bo, a long, wooden staff, and was recognizable to Cop as the man that had encountered Beta originally.

Ryan stood at attention and faced them.  "We came for our friends."

The big man's eye squinted.  "Your friends, the criminals?"

"They're not criminals," Ryan objected.

"And who associates with criminals," the man continued, "but criminals?"

"We're not criminals."

The big man ignored him.  "Get them!" he yelled at the ten people on the ground.  They all yelled their agreement and charged the six Checkwolf members.

"Great," Ryan muttered as they put their backs together to prepare for the onslaught.

Chapter 4

The two nearest to Ryan came at him, trying to draw him away from the group.  They went for him on either side.  Ryan dropped to the ground and aimed a sweep kick at the one to his left, which the man jumped.

Cop watched as the nearest one to his right approached.  He started to raise his right hand, which had a stun pistol attached, in order to shoot the near one when he noticed two attackers from the other side circling around to attack him as well, all recognizing that Cop was their biggest threat.  He allowed himself to be momentarily distracted and ended up misjudging his kick to the first one.  That one saw his opportunity and connected with a powerfully well-placed kick, sending Cop to his knees.  The other two attacked, but Cop was able to successfully defend against them.

Karl saw Ryan diving to the ground and missing, out of the corner of his eye, but he was concentrating on the man that was so obviously headed toward him.  The man stepped toward him and Karl attempted to dodge the straightforward punch.  And failed.  Trying to shake off the disorienting effects of the punch, Karl staggered and missed three times in quick succession.

Wil saw two women coming at him in a pincer move; it was a testament to the predicament that he felt he was in that he wasn't distracted from his objective.  Whirling, he found himself separated from the other members, leaving a vulnerable hole in their defense, which is what they were obviously trying to accomplish.  And the route back to his position was blocked by the two women.  He swung out at the one on his left and found his punch blocked and returned to his midsection.  "You'll have to do better than that," he told his attacker when he had regained his breath.  At the same time, he managed to block the attack from the other woman.

Brent eyed his attacker closely, a dark woman clad in a long-sleeved white shirt and white pants, with a white handkerchief covering her features, while at the same time seeing Wil get separated from the group and Ryan dive to the ground.  He decided that their strategy of standing unitedly wasn't working.  He then attacked the woman himself, which she obviously wasn't expecting of someone maintaining a defensive position.  Brent connected with a glancing blow to her jaw as she tried to avoid him.  Enraged, she shot a short jab at Brent's face.  He stumbled back from the surprisingly strong punch.

James readied himself.  Behind him, Cop had fallen under a powerful kick, and, to his side, Karl didn't seem to be faring very well, either.  He hadn't expected such a poor showing from either one.  He decided to show ugly up there how a real fighter fought.  He watched as a figure in black approached, and then lashed out with an incredibly fast kick  The man doubled over with a low-pitched groan.  James smiled as he brought his knee hard and fast up into the man's chin.  The man flew into the air and slammed onto his back, out cold.

"Should we go down and help?"

"No," the big man responded.  "I think they have things under control."

With stunning swiftness, Ryan leapt back to his feet and quickly jabbed the man on his left in the gut.  The man recovered extremely quickly and punched Ryan.  Ryan stood and received another powerful punch.  He fell to the ground, smoothly rolling to one side as the other man attempted to capitalize on Ryan's disadvantage, avoiding the man easily.

James turned from the man he had just knocked unconscious.  He saw Cop block a blow from each of two other attackers.  Mentally choosing one, James surprise-attacked.  The tall woman stumbled from James' light punch, then spun around.  Instantly, James swung, connecting solidly, sending the woman sprawling to the ground.  James stood above her, long enough to discern that she was unconscious.  Then one of Cop's other attackers, a man wearing dark sunglasses, kicked James in the head, toppling him over the woman that he had just knocked out.

Wil saw over his opponent's shoulder that James had just been taken out of the action.  He realized that their chances had just dipped substantially.  He then threw a punch at the man in front of him.  The man tried to duck aside.  Wil only gave him a glancing blow to the head, enough to down the man momentarily.  As he turned to face the woman on his other side, he felt and heard a sharp cracking noise.  Scenery spun dizzyingly as Wil toppled to the ground.

Cop was grateful as he saw James lure first one, then another of his attackers away.  But before he could even stand to throw another punch, his first attacker kicked him in the gut and then brought his foot up under Cop's chin, where the helmet didn't protect.  Cop fell backwards, knocked out for the first time in a long time.

Brent reoriented himself from the woman's punch, only to have his head whipped to the side from another punch.  Now Brent was the one that was enraged.  With three successive punches, he drove the woman attacker back.  With another, he knocked her to the ground, daring her to stand up.

Karl shook his head once more to clear the cobwebs.  Just in time, he saw another incoming punch, which he easily dodged.  He then rammed his fist into his attacker's stomach, after which he clenched his hands together and rammed them into the small of the man's back.  The man fell to the ground.

Wil shook his head and turned to call Cop for help, when he saw that the big man was out cold himself.  One of his attackers was now advancing on Wil.  Wil threw up his arms as he stood, to block the incoming punch.  He then flailed blindly, but hit nothing.  He felt a hard punch in his ribs, from his left.  The woman on his right then brought her knee up into his chin.  He stood upright briefly with her help, then succumbed to the darkness and fell to the ground, still.

Brent heard grunts of pain all around him and knew that his team was slowly dwindling.  He only hoped they were taking some of them with them.  He glanced briefly behind and saw that three of his comrades were down, but only two of them were, making the already-bad six-on-ten odds an even worse three-on-eight.  He turned back to see the foot of the woman he was fighting swiftly coming toward his face.  He grabbed her ankle before the foot to which it was attached could connect to his face.  She struggled loose and blocked Brent's next punch.  He was starting to get depressed.

Karl was really depressed.  He had just temporarily downed one guy, and here came two more.  One had knocked Cop out, and the other had taken James down.  I'm good, Karl thought as he saw a foot fly just in front of his face, realizing it was a misplaced kick from the man on the ground.  But not that good.  I'm in deep doo-doo.  Another man attacked, one who was wearing a large pair of dark sunglasses, but missed Karl by a mile, then Karl blocked the punch of the woman that was attacking him.  He brought his knee up into the woman's stomach, doubling her over, and receiving a growl of hate issue from her.  "Oh man," he said.

Ryan rolled to the other side as the same person attacked again.  "What an aim," he quipped as he stood up.  He turned and blocked the punch of his other attacker.  Ryan's punch, in turn, was blocked.  I don't think we've ever fought anybody this tough before, Ryan thought as he backed away from his attackers to assess the situation.  It doesn't look like we're going to win.

Brent saw out of the corner of his eye that two of the ones that had rendered Wil unconscious had decided that he would make a good target.  He wasn't about to let them get first shot.  He redirected his attention to the woman he had been fighting and quickly jabbed her in the stomach, then the face.  She finally fell, unconscious.  He still had the other two to deal with, though.  Another woman attacked him.  She kicked him in the stomach, doubling him over.  Then she brought her knee up and slammed it into his chin.  Finally, she used her other foot to knock Brent's legs out from underneath him.  The last feeling he had before he slipped into blissful sleep was pride, that he had outlasted Wil, James, and Cop.

Karl saw two others attack Brent.  At least they're fair, he told himself.  Evenly distributed.  If you call three-on-one fair.  His attention became riveted back to the fight at hand when his original attacker got him with an uppercut.  At least he thought it was his original attacker.  Even considering the fact that they wore no kind of uniform, it was still difficult to tell them all apart.  Except for the guy with the sunglasses.  Otherwise they all looked the same to him.  He returned the uppercut and knocked the man on his back again.  "Take that!" Karl said, satisfied.  He stepped to one side and turned around.  He grabbed the fist that was headed straight for his head.  "Naughty, naughty," he reprimanded.  The other woman tried to punch him as well.  He ducked.

Ryan saw that there were only Karl and himself left to fight.  A quick glance assured him that the four other men were still up on the edge of the Ravine, fifty feet above him.  Ryan looked back to the fight in time to duck a punch by one of his masked attackers and return a very hard punch to the man's midsection.  The man stumbled a few more feet and fell to the ground.  Ryan ignored him for awhile.  He received a glancing blow from another of his myriad attackers; it didn't hurt him badly.  He then noticed that Brent's final two attackers were moving on him, as well.

Suddenly, the booming voice from above called down.  "Stop!"  Instantly, his seven remaining warriors stayed still.  Karl and Ryan looked up to see what would happen next.  It couldn't get much worse.  "You are good fighters," the man said.

Ryan said nothing.

"I have reconsidered and decided to let you go."

"Why?" Ryan asked, suspicious.

Then he saw a hand wave from behind the man's back.  "Hey, Ryan!" Tyler called down.

"Tyler!" Ryan called back up.  "Are Clayton and Scott with you?"

"Of course."

"We'll be right up," Ryan said.

"No, we'll come down," Tyler called back, motioning for the big man to get moving.  Clayton and Scott herded the other three.  They all disappeared, seemingly into the ground.  Then they reappeared at the base of the earthen wall.  They came out of a camouflaged door that was recessed into the wall.

"Good job," Ryan commended Tyler.

"I know," Tyler said with a grin.

Ryan then turned to the big man.  "Now, first things first.  Who are you, and why exactly are you here?"

"We are the Ravine Warriors," he began.  "I am Slice.  This is Trueno," he said, indicating the bulky man that had taken Beta captive.  Then, pointing to the whipman, he said, "This is Lightning and that is Desaparece.  We are crimefighters that operate from, in, and around the Ravine."

"We're from Checkwolf," Ryan said.  "And I've never heard of you."

Slice seemed thoughtful, although that was somewhat hard to discern just by looking at one eye.  "I've never heard of Checkwolf."

"You haven't?" Clayton asked.

Slice shook his head.  "We are somewhat isolated here.  You haven't heard of us because we're very secretive.  But you're not criminals?"

"Right.  We're crimefighters, as well."

One of the women from the group spoke up.  "I've heard of them.  Their base is right near where I live."

"Didn't you recognize us?" Karl asked, more than slightly irritated.

"No," the woman said, also slightly miffed.  "You're always coming and going in the middle of the night.  How would I recognize you?"

Karl didn't respond.

"So if you'd just said something, we could've avoided all of this," Desaparece said.  He had a bandana wrapped around the top of his head, wraparound sunglasses, and a five o'clock shadow.

"Why didn't you?" Lightning asked.

All five conscious Checkwolf members looked around sheepishly.  "Good question," Ryan said.  "It just never occurred to us.  Our apologies."

"Ours, as well," Slice said with a masterful bow.  "Will all of your warriors recover?"

Ryan glanced at the still forms of James, Wil, Brent, and Cop.  "I should think so.  I don't know if that would have been the case had any of your comrades decided to start attacking us with those, though," Ryan said, gesturing at some of the cutlery that had been dislodged in the fight.

It seemed as if Slice were smiling.  "That situation did not materialize," he said simply.

Embarrassingly enough, Ryan had to admit that the big man was right, though he admitted it silently.  He wondered how much of the outcome of this fight could be attributed to Checkwolf's failure and how much to the Ravine Warriors' obvious skill.

"So basically, this was all just a big misunderstanding," Clayton said.  "We thought that you were criminals, and you thought the same of us."

Slice and Ryan both nodded.

"That about sums it up," Ryan said.

"Maybe we can work together sometime," Tyler said as Clayton, Scott, and Karl set about waking the other members.  "To fight."  He paused.  "Crime," he added, with a smile.

"I'd like that," Slice said, his booming laughter echoing off the Ravine walls.

"We can go back to the van and get you a signaller so that you can call us for help whenever you deem it necessary," Ryan offered.

Slice nodded.  "Go back with them, Desa.  Guide them out of here and get this signaller from them."

Desaparece nodded.

"Until later," Slice said in his resounding voice.

"Until later," Ryan affirmed.