I had to think about it for a second. Tigers and Panthers were both jungle creatures, right? Now there were Cheetahs.
The entry way to the area the was filled with more patrolling cat-a-likes. This time, they had the yellow spotted fur of a Cheetah. The villain world already had one of those, didn't they? What did they need with another few dozen?
I had to get back to work. It was hard to tell in the room with the statues, but once out of there, I could feel the energy building again. I'd delayed whatever crescendo it had been building to, but I hadn't stopped it.
It managed to con the first two back into the statue room. Selena helped me take those two out. Good grief they were fast. But they didn't have the strength, or the endurance, of the tigers I'd previously faced.
That meant I had to play the waiting game. I needed them to come to me. So, I put my back to a wall and did that. It took me a few tries to get the first hit timed right, but since they never threw more than one flurry or two of their own, I never was in any real danger.
Thank the powers, I'd practiced with my own health powers, though. I was mentally fatigued, if physically healthy when I finally managed to proceed to the next thing this forsaken warehouse was ready to throw at me.
I kid you not. The only way I had to proceed (as I didn't think the cheetahs had clawed their way through metal gates) was down into a set of large metal pipes. I could smell the natural gas. It was strong, and in the quantities I was smelling it, dangerous. It was the edge of the magical energy, too.
I was still surprised to see the man in the yellow hazmat suit. I could see his apprehension, even through the suit. He visibly flinched as a I dropped down, and was about to try hiding when I spoke. "I'm not with them," I said. "I'm Nidalee, from the Justice League." I could see his shoulders slump in relief.
"Oh. Oh... good. Are you here to help me fix the pipes? This giant cat broke them further on his way through here. It's self sealed on the other end. You're going to close off the valves to stop the gas flow on this side. That'll get the main pipe open again."
I stared at him. "You have GOT to be kidding me."
He shook his head.
Fine. I didn't see that I had any choice in the matter.
If the cats before were defending their new home, these guys just wanted to race. I think they could get in and out fast enough that they didn't suffer any ill effects.
They simply ran over me. I think they were trying to keep me in the gas long enough that I suffocated. If they kept me down long enough, I would.
I had to use every trick I'd learned to dodge them. I rolled. I flattened myself against the wall. I grappled the ceiling. I could not go down. If I went down, I was dead. I wasn't going to die in some absurd sewer beneath the warehouse of a bloody museum! Wasn't on my to do list.
The only moments of respite I had was the sealing of each valve. Even then I got ambushed by a panther. One on one, there wasn't much of a threat. But I was working against the clock. I could feel my head getting woozy.
Had to push on. The gas was overwhelming.
I slammed the valve and charged through the now open portal. The clean, stale air was fantastic. I took a minute to catch my breath. Then looked up at the room. I was back in the museum. And there was a giant cheetah man standing on a ledge on the far end. He pointed at me and laughed.
Great. Another one?
He jumped down, and laughed. then sped towards me, and I caught the glimpse of yellow gemstones on a necklace.
All right. I was going to need a plan.
Step one: Get necklace of power away from Super Cheetah. Step two: Do not die in the execution of step one.
I need a better plan.
To my surprise, he was executing the same hit and run tactic of his smaller lookalikes. After the first flurry, I established he did not have the same killer strength of the giant tiger I'd fought earlier. He was much faster, if not quite the on the same level of the speedsters. Still, he seemed to take my presence as a personal insult.
Which was good, because I had nothing to throw, and I was reasonably sure he could run out the clock, literally speaking. Each time he came close, we traded another flurry of blows. With his power, and my healing ability, I'm not sure either of us were making any progress.
I had to change the game. I had the germ of an idea, and I backed up. I backed up into a corner. The next time he came at me to flurry, I ducked under the blows, and grabbed at his legs. Instead of being able to run past me, he had begun to turn and run at the same time. With his legs tangled, I took a foot to the face, and it hurt, but he came crashing to the ground. Apparently, it was true. The bigger were, the harder they fell. The fall stunned him, just long enough for me to dart towards his head to grab the necklace.
The gemstones emanated the same weird, foul energy as the first pair. It wanted in my being. It wanted to overwhelm me. I couldn't let it. I thrust the two stones in a pocket and went after the Cheetah. Without the energy to draw on, it also eventually succumbed to an overly aggressive tiger lady.
The trip back was simpler. I unlocked a gate that led me almost right back to the center area. Ms. Kyle closed the way into the area the Cheetahs had been in. My muscles were sore. I hadn't been neglecting myself, I promise you that. But this was a high intensity workout I had not been properly prepared for. We'd replaced the second yellow gemstones, and again, there was a drop in the energy. It began to build again immediately.
"Two down, two left," Selena told me. "When you're ready."
"Tigers and Cheetahs," I told her tiredly. "What could possibly be next?"
"I've seen a few panthers," she replied. "But I'd guess lions."
I just HAD to ask. Lions were pack animals. You never fought just one lion.
I rested for at least ten minutes before heading through door number three. There was a locked gate to one side. My quarry, probably another ginormous cat, had left marks in the floor that way. I'd have to hope I could find a way around.
My best bet was another damn hole in the floor. At least this one didn't lead me into steam filled tunnels.
My first encounter in the tunnel was a couple of lionesses. It made sense. Lionesses were the hunters. This time, I did not successfully pull one at a time. I had to deal with a pair. It wasn't that hard, or at least it wouldn't have been had I not been starting to get tired.
Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, what happened next would completely make me forget my exhaustion. I saw a lion in the corner. I instinctively jumped in after him, I saw initially nothing else around him. Being a single target, a quick combo to the abdomen put him down for the count.
Then I saw the cub, and I thought I was going to be sick. He looked up at me, down at the lion I'd just clobbered. Then up at me again. The he walked over an embraced my leg.
What in the name of... I had two competing theories. That these were humans taken over by a cat spirit. If that was true, this was bad. It meant that these spirits had taken over children. The other theory was that these were actual humanoids, sealed somehow in the magic of the statues.
That was conceivably worse.
I crouched, and tried to communicate with him. Using English, hand signals, anything I could think of. I wanted him, or perhaps her, to hide. It wouldn't lead my side, and when I got ambushed by another pair of lionesses, it helped me take them down. I took more than a few extra hits trying to keep it from coming to harm.
Maybe both theories were true.
When I saw the second one, I forgot my exhaustion, I forgot my fear. I was angry, probably too angry. I was going to find every cub in this basement area.
And I was not going to leave any of them behind.