Part 1

The flash of strobe lighting was her cue. She took a deep breath before making her way onto the narrow stage. It was lit only by the pale glow of two rows of pink rope lighting. Her lithe form started to move instinctively to the beat of yet another generic rock song. The strobe lights kicked on and began to follow her. She built suspense, walking confidently forward but stopping at strategic intervals letting her hands roam over her dark tanned body. The lights would catch brief flashes of her tease. Once the beat picked up she burst into the spotlight rolling her hips and thrashing three feet of raven hair with abandon. She looked towards the bar with come hither glare from steely blue eyes.

She attempted to draw more patrons up towards the stage. After a few enticing gestures she hooked a thigh around the pole in a tight spin. She closed her eyes reveling in the energy. She exhibited herself for the money but it was the attention she loved. The adoration of men who were rich, powerful, and sophisticated was what she craved. Deliverance from a youth wasted in a no name town for the first of eighteen years of her life was her debt to these men. She had worked hard to shed the image of the small town girl.

The woman writhed provocatively to the loud beat making it look effortless in her six inch high heel patent leather boots. Her stage outfit was currently a revealing black mini dress with a full zipper from cleavage to hem. She felt larger than life up on stage, powerful and special. She faced the pole grinding her hips against it suggestively as she pouted with eyes closed then directed a sultry stare as she exposed the skin of her shoulder. She looked down in mock modesty as she indulged in a few pole tricks. The pole gymnastics always intrigued those who wanted more than just a hot body. She could feel all eyes on her, undressing her in their minds. She hadn't even taken her clothes off and they were mesmerized by her.

Every man who encountered her had the same reaction. Not every girl could get this kind of attention without any more exposure than a flash of upper thigh and a glimpse of ample cleavage from briefly unzipping her dress. Her immense concentration was disguised as arousal. She was an actress playing out the fantasy that she enjoyed the degradation of taking her clothes off for money. Maybe on some level she did. Maybe her precocious knowledge of the pleasures of the flesh in junior high school had warped her forever. Maybe it was the fate of a girl who developed early and had male attention long before she knew how to properly handle it.

She sank down from the pole to her knees to retrieve a few bills that had materialized on the edge of the stage. She made sure to make eye contact with each of her paying admirers before picking up the money and depositing it in her garter. She gathered up her last stray bills, blowing a kiss to a generous and wealthy looking man who was beckoning her over with an especially generous tip. She stood up with the grace of an exotic jungle cat and let her body pick up the beat once again. Her hips swayed as she walked towards her rich patron. She stopped, flexing the soft angles of her body before him. She pulled up her hem seductively exposing her well proportioned rear, pulling out the side of her g string to take a deposit of fifty dollars. She turned back and bared her breasts momentarily in appreciation as she walked back to dance for other men eager to pay her.

The man called Grifter had spent too many years in D.C. He hated coming back. It brought back memories he would rather leave buried. This was the first trip where he would be visiting the bar he had known so many years ago. Here he and the other members of Team 7 had tried so often to quiet the ghosts inside their heads with strong doses of alcohol. It had been a dark time he tried to forget. The bar had apparently changed once the cold war spooks and black ops agents diminished in number. It was now called the Hot Spot, a strip club full of breathtaking shapely young women giving their all for the dollars or politicians and bureaucrats. As he walked through the club to the bar he felt the occasional sweep of a hand along his shoulder as the girls vied for his attention, or more likely, the contents of his wallet. He was here for business not pleasure this evening and ignored them. Normally he was never too busy for the attention of ladies, feigned or genuine but his partner had stressed the importance of this specific mission. There were no second chances. If he blew this he would never hear the end of it. He spotted a familiar face behind the bar. He sat down on a stool upholstered in what looked like red dyed ostrich skin. It was a fitting mix of ostentatious yet expensive and luxurious.

"Hey, Wild Bill, you still own this place?" he shouted over the music.

"Cole Cash! I'll be damned. How long has it been? Ten years? Fifteen? You still look like a punk kid." Wild Bill looked a few years older. He had aged gracefully unlike Grifter who seemed to have not aged at all.

"I owe it all to clean living."

"Don't kid a kidder."

"So tell me, why is this place so hot these days?"

"Check out the center stage. Pretty little thing who wandered in here a few months back..we call her Voodoo."

Grifter turned towards the main stage. As strobe lights faded back they highlighted a tan doe eyed creature with long jet black hair striding confidently on stage. Her hair whipped around countering every sway of her hips. She was stunning in an ambiguously exotic way, but there was something else. He was unable to look away. She was drawing him in with that steely gaze. Her eyes were pale blue like so many of her breed. Power was coming off her in massive waves. She batted her lashes at him in a practiced way as she undulated seductively to a song he had heard a million times. It had never sounded that good until now. He would be willing to wager this woman had no clue of the true power she possessed. The intelligence they had bought had been right. This was definitely the Gifted One they were looking for.

He grabbed a pack of matches bearing the club's name from the bar and lit a cigarette. He watched her performance intently. He just had to kill a bit of time before his partner got there. If he was lucky Voodoo would leave with them willingly. If not they would have to follow her home or wherever she went when she was done working. He didn't want to take Voodoo against her will however it was a definite possibility. Letting her walk away was not an option.

He exhaled slowly watching Voodoo move fluidly on the stage. He checked his phone and started to worry that his partner may not be coming. He looked up to spot trouble in his peripheral vision. Three suspicious figures were entering the club. Two broad shouldered men in puffy coats flanked by a six foot tall amazon. The men had to be Cabal agents. They were scanning the club looking for something...usually that something was him. He swore under his breath counting the seconds as his hand hovered over the handle of his gun. Did they follow him here? The Coda and the Cabal had quite the bounty on his head as well as his partner's. Judging by the statuesque woman's demeanor she definitely was not here for amateur night. She was a Coda, there was no doubt about it. The order of warrior women were all violence and attitude. They never missed an opportunity to try to take him out. Many had tried but all had failed so far. With each failed attempt the prestige grew. Each wanted the glory of taking his bloody head to the steps of Themiscraya, their most sacred of temples.

These women worshiped violence like it was a religion. The Coda were perpetuated from kidnappings of young girls in war torn countries. As mercenaries they took a certain number in addition to their fee. They raised the girls for their mercenary army. Each was trained in combat, their precepts and strict obedience to the Majestrix. They were ruthless and brutal killers who took an oath of dispassion yet seemed to revel in bloodshed. The hypocrisy seemed lost on them. After centuries of corruption, the once noble order took any job that could pay their price. Their loathing of him knew no bounds as his existence spit in the face of their tenets.

Grifter watched them lock their eyes on Voodoo. He realized that the Gifted One was the target. As they made a bee line for the stage Grifter sprang into action. He donned his mask..a thin red cloth with distinctive black patterns over the eyes. He knew he was outgunned but that was normal order of things. He rushed towards the stage attempting to intercept them. The sea of people kept getting in his way as he tried to push his way through. With lightning reflexes he drew his guns ready to take a shot. He knew it would incite panic in the crowded club, but his options were running out. One of the men reached the stage and was grabbing for the young dancer. The girl called Voodoo was frozen. She recoiled in fear as she stared with a profound terror in her eyes. Grifter cursed under his breath. The world seemed to be standing still for a second. Then Voodoo let out a piercing scream. That was when all Hell broke loose. The crowd saw his gun and a chorus of yelling started as people began to run for the door. Voodoo was being dragged off the stage by her stiletto boot at the hands of the Cabal agent. She attempted to get away, her fingers uselessly clawing at the slick stage.

People were pouring towards the exits and it was like swimming upstream for Grifter. A bouncer, more overweight than muscular, ran towards the stage. The Coda saw him and slit his throat with one forceful swipe of her clef blade, the signature weapon of the warrior sisterhood. Blood sprayed from the wound as the man dropped to the floor with a sickening thud. She turned her gaze to Grifter, staring him down with a cold gaze. It was an invitation to a death duel, a sacred rite of the Coda. He didn't have time for this today. She would take his refusal as cowardice, but he didn't care. Getting the girl was far more important.

He heard a few frantic yells and he realized the Cabal agents had seen him. They activated their "flash suits" which made them much less discreet but far better armed. The agent that had Voodoo in hand threw her aside to attack him. She shrieked upon hitting the floor. It was a bad move on the agents' part. With the girl out of the way he unloaded his guns at the two men. In such close range a head shot to each was easy. He was an excellent marksman, earning the nickname "Deadeye" when he was in the service. The men slumped to the ground. The shots just panicked the still fleeing patrons who were now trampling others trying frantically to escape. The Coda was still eager for a fight, not even acknowledging the deaths of her comrades.

As he made his way towards Voodoo the Coda attacked full force. He managed to dodge a swipe of her blade.

"You are slightly more skilled than I originally gave you credit for, Grifter. However it is of no consequence. You will perish by my blade."

"You Coda always think you have it in the bag, but I keep surviving." This Coda was overconfident, an annoying trait the Coda all seemed to possess. Grifter anticipated her moves, dodging and weaving.

"Stand and fight! You are nothing without your guns."

"Don't think so, sweetheart. They seem to be working for me in this fight," he said. "But not so well for I'm afraid." Grifter emptied his clip into the stomach of the Coda. Her body shuddered with the impact of three rounds in rapid succession. He heard the metallic clang of her Clef blade hitting the floor mere inches from his head. The Coda lay prone, but alive. He didn't have time to finish her off. Voodoo was tucked against the stage, trying vainly to hide.

"Voodoo, if you want to live come with me." She was shivering in fear as she looked up at him. His gloved hand was outstretched to her. She surveyed him, a rough and tumble gunslinger with dirty blonde hair, a day's growth of stubble and a willingness to pull the trigger without hesitation. Who was this masked man?

"W-what the Hell is going on?" she asked.

"Jesus, I save your life and you want explanations? We don't have time for this. I can explain later. We have got to leave RIGHT NOW." Common sense told her to run as far as her boots would take her away from this man and situation. However, something held her back, This man knew something about what was going on. She knew nothing. These men and that woman had obviously come here to kidnap her. She was in way over her head and she had no idea how she had gotten there. With a split second decision she took his hand. He pulled her roughly to her feet.

"Where is the back exit?"

"Over there," she said pointing towards the dressing rooms. He dragged her out towards the back door. She tried to keep up but his strides were longer and her boots made it hard to run. As they ran out the doors of the club the cold air hit them. They heard a series of explosions.

"SHIT! Hit the deck!" Grifter pushed the girl down and threw himself over her. He gripped her tightly, shielding her from any flying debris. Voodoo closed her eyes, bracing for an impact of bricks and concrete which never came. Destruction was all around them but they had been spared the worst of it. Grifter got back up and running through a thick cloud of dust. He pulled her to her feet. Voodoo tried to look back. Dark plumes of smoke were rising from the rubble. She could feel pain and fear radiating from people trapped in the debris.

"Who did this? Terrorists?" Tears began to form in her eyes.

"You can't do anything for them. We gotta go." They had come to a highly customized motorcycle. Grifter got on the bike. She looked incredulously at him.

"Come on! Get on! We don't have much time." She climbed on the bike behind him. She had barely grabbed onto him when he took off at a speed she could only classify as reckless. As they disappeared into the night a pink glowing light began to appear from right beside where the Hot Spot had stood only minutes before. It flared in intensity as if the sky itself was ripping open, but by that time they were gone.