It was in the early morning in late August when Sutler, Chloe and Mina Starr-Kael were loaded into a long black sedan. The three were spirited away from the Kael Family Estate and to the small Arkham Airfield. From there a private charter carried them to L.A. and from there to an undisclosed location in Northern China.
Throughout the trip Mina had been surprisingly quiet, seemingly distracted. That suited Sutler just fine. He spent most of his time on the flight keeping Chloe entertained when she was awake. When she was asleep Sutler studied the same old tapes he had been jerking off to for months now. He had twice inquired with the wheelchair bound Mina where they were headed. She merely muttered about “contingencies” and was otherwise unhelpful.
After the long flight across the Pacific the jet seemed to turn North and skirt the Chinese border. The mystery of the whole situation only seemed to grow when they finally landed. Sutler noticed that the air field they touched down flew both Chinese and North Korean flags.
“Where the fuck are we?” Sutler asked as he peered through the small round window of the jet.
“Sut!” little Chloe admonished her older brother.
“Sorry, sorry.” the World Champion replied half-heartedly. In truth Sutler was distracted by the mystery that was unfolding before him.
The sound of Mina’s wheelchair whirring toward the exit pulled the Son of Scions attention away. He turned and, beckoning for Chloe to follow, gave chase to the shattered woman.
“Why did you insist on bringing the Girl?” Mina hissed under her breath at Sutler. The sound of the ramp lowering ensured her question never reached the young girl’s ears.
“I promised I’d take her with me on my next adventure and when you demanded I fly with you to China, well. I thought why not two birds with one stone?.” the Champ replied in earnest. Mina turned her bandaged face to stare at Sutler with eyes full of bewilderment.
“The Family takes you on a mysterious flight China and you think it’s a good time to bring along a child?!” the wretched woman screeched at the Boy Who Would Be Champion just as the ramp managed to touch down.
Both snapped their heads toward the collection of dour looking officials waiting at the bottom. There was a moment of awkward silence before one of the Chinese officers steps forward.
“Welcome to Site 23.” he said in remarkably well spoken English. Sutler couldn’t hide the surprise on his face quite as well as the bandages could for Mina. The sound of the shattered woman’s wheels squeaking alerted the Champion that she was on the move again.
“Thank you for having us. I am Ms. Mina Starr-Kael and this is-”
Before Mina could continue finish a North Korean military officer stepped forward.
“USURPER!” the officer screamed before pulling his side arm. He pointed the barrel directly at Sutler’s chest and cocked the hammer.
Time seemed to freeze as Sutler’s face contorted into one of bitter terror. His brain wasn’t ready for this and so his body was effectively paralyzed. He tried to speak but the only noise that seemed to be coming out of him was a very flat whining noise. And so, lacking any other alternative and unable to face his end with eyes wide open, he pressed his eyelids together tightly.
“You promised we’d go on an adventure!”
Chloe stared up at Sutler with big, sad eyes as her lip quivered.
Sutler’s mind raced as he struggled to remember if he had, in fact, made that promise. Did he? Probably, Sutler reasoned. He’d been making a lot of promises recently that he wasn’t really able to follow through with.
“Well.. we can totally go on an adventure here at the Estate while I also get ready for my match against Conor Fu-”
“That’s not an adventure..” his little sister bemoaned with a sigh.
“I heard we purchased the neighbor’s houses, we could totally go on an adventure there!” he said encouragingly.
Chloe looked back up at him with a puzzled gaze.
“They tore those houses down three days ago, Sut-Sut. They’ve been expanding the house out both ways but..” she paused, biting her lip nervously. “I never see anyone working on it. The house is just bigger.”
Her voice was hushed and he could tell she was nervous about something. Before he could inquire further the sound of Mina Starr-Kael’s wheels ended the conversation. Sutler’s spine stiffened as he stood up, his eyes darting around nervously while he tried to locate the approaching creature.
At last his eyes fell upon the crumpled woman. The twisted creature was slowly approaching from the Western Hall. Her body was still encased in the mechanical framework. Beneath that remained very much a mystery as cloth wrappings covered seemingly every inch of her body.
“Pack a bag, Darling, we’ve got a long flight ahead of us.” the wretch wheezed at him from beneath her white bandages. The sound of cruel mirth he had grown accustomed to was lacking in her voice. Instead it had been replaced with urgent uncertainty.
Sutler’s fingers traced over the golden faceplate of the HOW World Championship. He liked to think he looked thoughtful but more to the point he was just fondling the title.
“So I know what to pack, where are we going?” he asked with a quirk of his eyebrow. He could feel Chloe clutching at his side nervously. As the horrid woman slowly rolled by Sutler’s little sister used him like a shield.
“Northern China, Darling. I can’t tell you the specifics or I’ll have to kill you.”
He didn’t know if she was being glib or not but given her behavior in the past Sutler wasn’t about to pry more.
“Northern China huh..” he repeated, scratching his chin before he slowly turned to look down at Chloe. “Looks like we’re going to go on an Adventure after all!”
Her head snapped up to look at him as her eyes filled with joy and excitement. In his head the World Champion gave himself a high-five for being such an excellent big brother. Nothing about this plan could possibly go wrong.
“So this is some kind of gene therapy or something?” Max’s harsh voice asked between rasping mechanical breaths compliments of his breathing mask. Around him a small group of doctors in white lab coats with a small Phoenix logo over the pocket seemed to be discussing him.
The answers came in a flood of Chinese dialects he did not recognize. Recognizing the futility in asking his questions Max cast his eyes to the floor. Interestingly enough the same Phoenix symbols the doctors had was repeated on the floors.
“I only ask ‘cause my brother, Michael, recommended this place cause you guys helped with his shoulder. Michael Lee Best?” He turned to look at the medical personnel standing nearby hoping they might recognize the name of his brother.
He was met with stony glares before the doctors returned to their own conversations. Beneath his mask Max frowned and sighed. The doors to the lab he was currently seated in opened as a nurse with a small cart entered. She skittered across the room, seating across from Max. Almost immediately he noticed that her lap coat was different. A deep red with a black dragon symbol over the breast pocket.
“Oh, you look different, do you speak English?” Max asked only to get an answer in the form of a steady glare.
The red doctor began setting assorted tubes and needles out near Max. This naturally began to unnerve the LSD Champion.
“I was told this was going to be non-invasive operations? Stem cell injections or something? That doesn’t look like stem cells. I’ve gotta fight three other idiots in a Cage and it’s important I’m not all full of holes and bleeding.” the North Kaelrean General stammered through his mask. The red doctor continued her work.
Yanking his arm toward her she wrapped a plastic band around his bicep. Her fingers crawled over his arm poking and prodding his veins until she came upon one she was happy with.
“I should warn you, my blood is considered a toxic substance in at least three states.”
His warning went unheeded as he felt the sudden pinch and pressure of a needle being driven into his flesh. A static hiss escaped his mask as his body tensed. A low growl rumbled from his chest and for the first time the medical staff around him seemed to pause and take notice.
“My blood, is that what you’re after?” He snarled, the mechanical tin to his voice adding a theatrical edge to his words.
The red nurse nodded her head slowly as the Lord of Kaelsevania gnashed his metal teeth and turned his hateful gaze forward. She finished her work collecting three vials of thick #97red vitae from the Prime Minister of Maxopotamia.
Once finished she gave him one last careful, dour look which he matched, his eye narrowed.
“Have a nice day, sir.” she said in perfect English before exiting with his blood.
Max was bewildered, his jaw going slack beneath his mask as he watched her leave.
“Son of a Bitch.”
Sutler wasn’t fully sure what had happened after the gun had gone off given that his eyes were closed.
It is safe to say that the High Octane World Champion did let out a fairly ear piercing scream. Anyone within earshot could attest to that. Past the sound of his own screaming and the gunshot itself, the Son of Scions could hear men shouting in different languages. This was followed by sounds of physical scuffling and the grunts of men struggling against each other.
He was terrified to open his eyes. He had heard once that pain was 90% gaining awareness of an injury rather than the injury itself. In his mind if he opened his eyes and looked down at his chest he would see it.
A puckering bullet hole and the slow spread of crimson across his shirt.
The sound of Chloe screaming his name from behind him broke Sutler from his panic induced paralysis. His eyes shot open as he turned to see her staring at him with wide eyes from the threshold of the plane a few feet up the ramp from him. Confirming she is safe he finally works the courage up to look down at his chest.
He quickly ran his hands over his arms and legs before confirming, by some miracle, that he has not been shot. Suddenly he feels firm hands on his arms and shoulders. He attempts to fight but they are overwhelming in strength as they tear him down the ramp.
His screams for Chloe are quickly answered by not by the voice he is hoping for.
“Shut up, she’ll be fine! A Max Kael North Korean Loyalist just tried to assassinate you, you idiot! We’ve got to get you inside!” the uncommonly forthcoming Mina shouted at the Son of Scions.
He couldn’t see her but by the sound of her voice she was somewhere to his left. Another gunshot rang out though it didn’t seem to draw any reaction from those around him. Instead he began to do the math in his head.
“Did they just fucking execute someone?!” the Champion asked in a panicked voice.
There was more shouting that drowned out any answer that Mina might have had for him. Into the bunker he went next only to discover stairs at the entry. His feet lost their traction on the concrete steps as he tripped with a yelp. Tumbling down the stairs he curled into a ball to protect the HOW World Title.
He wasn’t sure how far down he fell, it had felt like an eternity until his body came to a sudden stop on a cold metal floor. Above him a light flickered to life illuminating the Son of Scions. With a groan he pushed himself up onto his feet. He instinctually ran his fingers across the World Championship to ensure it hadn’t been damaged and once confirmed he let out a relieved sigh.
“Where the fuck did they put me?” Sutler mused to himself as he scanned the landing he had, well, landed on. He was surrounded by dark green walls that stretched out into darkness on either side of him. Something caught his eye, a repeated symbol that showed up on the walls and the floor every so often.
As he approached he let out a bemused grunt.
“Neat.. it’s a Dragon.”
Another series of muffled gunshots rang out from the other side of the bunker door above. Sutler flinched and immediately moved out of direct line of sight of the door. He had lost Mina but more importantly, Chloe was still out there somewhere.
He prayed she had managed to escape back into the jet and that the pilots were smart enough to close up the ramp. Unfortunately it was not likely he was going to be able to get to her going back through the door. Instead he would have to find his way out by going forward into the darkened bunker passageways.
His head swiveled from side to side as he stared down the darkened passages on either side of him. Without a guide this would be guess work at best and Sutler hated guess work.
Again his mind drifted back to Chloe. He had to get back to her, he was an idiot to bring her here. Mina was right, that god damn harpy, and it chaffed Sutler’s crotch that she was.
“A long trek through dark tunnels in a secret Chinese/North Korea bunker that has ties with the Kael Family.. Could be worse I guess.”
Sutler mused to himself as he dusted himself off. Picking a tunnel the High Octane World Champion took a deep breath and began to march.
“..I could be reading one of those choose your own adventure books.”