Ep 10: Bright Catacomb

          I just stood there, feeling the tip of the barrel against my head. I knew I should be running, should be pushing Marisol down, trying to get away, to at least survive the next few seconds, but what was I going to do, really? I couldn’t believe this woman was actually going to kill me, and if she was, well, maybe this wonky alien watch would come through with another force field, or some other way to protect me.

          “Wes, I’m sorry,” she said again, a stormy vibrato running through her voice. I knew that if I looked over at her, there would be real, regretful tears running down her face.

          I took a breath, tapping furiously at my watch, just in case it didn’t yet sense the urgency of the situation. Spectros watched me, a corpse’s smile cutting through his face. He held his hands in front of him, and for a moment, I thought he was about to lay them on his chest.

          But he didn’t.

          There was a click, and a choked exclamation from Marisol. I felt the gun leave my temple, while Marisol fell forward onto her knees, and vomited all over the floor.

          It took me a few seconds to realize that I wasn’t dead and probably wasn’t going to die in the next few seconds. It was enough to make me want to add my own vomit to Marisol’s.

          Well, that and the smell.

          Spectros just grinned at us.

          “You bastard,” I said, not sure on whose behalf I was the most outraged. “You gave her an unloaded gun?”

          “We did,” Spectros said. “We couldn’t let her kill you, of course. We may need you alive if we are ever going to unlock the secrets of the armor.”

          “So you … so this was … just a joke? What was the fucking point of this?”

          “We needed to see how far Miss Reyes was willing to go.”

          “I did what you asked!” Marisol wiped her mouth on her shirt sleeve as she got up on her feet. “It’s not my fault what you gave me. You have to take me to him now!”

          “Did I tell you that I wouldn’t? Why so angry?”

          As the wall between us and Spectros opened, Marisol turned to me and whispered, “I thought your watch would save you. I never thought you would die …”

          “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I would have done the same thing.” I’m not sure that’s true, but whatever.

          She winced as she accepted that half-hearted absolution. As soon as the wall shut once more, the light flicked off and Spectros guided Marisol out into darkness.

          Leaving me with a spreading puddle of puke that didn’t even belong to me, which just fucking figured.

          I went to one of the cell’s eight corners and sat down there, resting against the walls. Before I had been grateful for the company, but now I was glad to be alone, if only for a few minutes.

          Ok, so a little more was clear. A lot was more confusing. Spectros was definitely involved in the events of the night, which we knew already, so I wasn’t sure exactly how helpful that revelation was going to be. But he had partners as well, hence his use of the word we. He kept correcting us about that too, which was odd. He’d wanted us to know he wasn’t acting alone. And it wasn’t like he was just trying to spread the blame. I’m no expert in super-villain psychology, but it seems to me that he wouldn’t think of something like that as “blame” so much as he would as “credit.”

          So, who was he working with?

          If Alice had been here, I would have asked her who of Mysteria’s enemies were unnacounted for, and I’d have asked her to read the “mystic signature,” if that was as much of a real thing as it had seemed to be earlier.  It had obviously taken a lot of power to hang that island in the air like that.

          Had it really fallen? Had the city endured more devastation? I thought about Laura and Chloe? Were they safe? Surely the bunkers underneath Ben and Claire’s apartment building would have protected them from falling rock. I hoped. I know it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can prepare for.

          And where were Derek and Alice? If Spectros and his mysterious who-ever had grabbed Marisol and me, I had to assume they had Derek and Alice as well. Not to mention Michael. They were probably in a cell just on the other side of the darkness, having this same conversation. I don’t know what I expected them to do, but surely Derek’s disappearence would get the XDF involved, and they had resources. Someone was coming to get us. Someone, probably Laura and Michael, would lead a … well, I was going to say a charge of the Light Brigade, but decided not even I could go there.

          I tapped on my watch, which once again seemed completely dead. What use was this stupid thing? Would it really have popped out with a force field and saved me from a point-blank bullet to the head? I would have liked to think so, but I couldn’t be sure.

          I was a little afraid Marisol was being taken out and murdered. How binding was a mystic oath from someone whose powers came from death?

          Resting my head against the wall, I closed my eyes and waited. There wasn’t really anything else to do. I could have done push-ups or run in place or something, just to keep sharp like the action heroes always did in those movies, but let’s face it, I’m not one of those guys. Conserving my energy so I could stay alert and take advantage of any miniscule opportunity, that’s what I told myself I was doing.

          It was a good story. Too bad drifting off into a bored sleep after twenty minutes was the result.

          I woke up when the wall slide open again. Spectros was there, with Marisol. Startled, I hopped up to my feet and took a good look at her, searching for signs of the tell-tale glowing, green eyes. They were still dark and clouded, so I was probably safe.

          She was quiet though, and walking almost limply through the space. Without a word, Spectros shoved her into the cell and then signaled for the wall to close once more. 

          Once it was done, the darkness around us returned, leaving us alone in our bubble of light.

          Marisol leaned against the wall next to where I was sitting. I kept waiting for her to come down to my level, on the floor, but  she just rested there, as if she was unsure of what she was supposed to do next. As she did, a hand absently went to her belly and stayed there.

          “Are you ok?” I asked her? I thought about getting up, but decided not to. I wasn’t sure I even owed her the courtesy now.

          She nodded.

          “What happened? Did you see him? Is he all right?”

          She looked at me as if she was shocked I’d asked the question. I sat up a little straighter and waited for her answer.

          “He’s not good…”

          “Well … what’s wrong with him?” I was getting impatient. This wasn’t the time to get shy with me. We needed to come up with a plan on how we were getting out of here, and every little detail could matter. Especially if they were details about the condition of the last super-hero left alive in the city.

          “How much do you know about Robbie … about what he is and what he can do?”

          “I only know what the rest of the public knows. Your boyfriend hasn’t been around very long, and my brother didn’t exactly come home with a dossier on everyone in the Light Brigade. He kept everyone’s secrets pretty well.”

          “Robbie was … well, Robbie IS, a cop. When he first started out, he had a second job as a security guard at the University Science Lab.”

          “Let me guess. Some sort of weird experiment went wrong and he got himself transformed into a were-scorpion? Or whatever the weird thing he became is?”

          She nodded. “It was a nanotech experiment, body armor. It bonded with him, but he can transform back and forth.”

          “And …”  This was interesting, but I wasn’t sure of the relevance.

          “And now he’s … he’s alive, but in incredible pain. It’s almost like he’s stuck in mid-transformation. Frozen halfway between states, unable to complete the process.”

          “Did you … were you able to talk to him?”

          “I did. But I don’t know if he heard me. He didn’t respond to me.”

          “Did you tell him … you know … what you had to tell him?”

          “I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I don’t know, I just wanted to know that he could know and be happy. I didn’t want his knowledge of our child to be tainted by that memory of his pain.”

          “That’s an interesting way of looking at it,” I said.

          “It’s my decision to make.”

          I looked up at her, wondering why the hell she was so mad at me. I guess she needed to be mad at someone and I was the only one around. Dan always told me that half of his job as Laura’s husband was being around for her to gripe to. He actually loved it. And even though she had just shown that she’d been willing to put a bullet in my head, I guess a part of me was grateful to be that person for Marisol. What was wrong with me?

          “So, I’m guessing there’s not much point in expecting a rescue from that direction?”

          She stared at me, appalled, so I quickly added, “which means we need to account for rescuing him?”

          “I don’t know how we’re going to do anything,” she said. “Look at us. We’re helpless here.”

          “Yeah, well … you got any better ideas?”

          Now she did sit down, her back against the wall. She pulled her legs up against her chest and rested her head on her knees. I watched her sit like that for what seemed like an hour, until I said, “It’ll be ok, Marisol. I’ve been in a lot of weird situations, and something always happens. I mean, the entire town went to hell, and we got out of that, right?”

          Her glare told me her answer to that question, but I wasn’t going to address it. Of course we’d had the Light Brigade then. Of course there’d been ancient enemies willing to help us in our fight against the demon king? But we didn’t know any of that while we were being held in the slave pens? That hadn’t been the thought in my head while they’d branded my ass,  but it had turned out to be true. Something would turn out to be true here, too. The only way we were sure to lose was if we just gave up and killed ourselves now.

          I don’t know how much time passed while we sat there in silence. We each slept again. I awoke having to pee really badly, but lacking a place to do it, had to resort to pissing in the corner. I used my tux shirt to soak up the urine so it wouldn’t spread out and left it there in the corner as a stinking, lumpy, putrid-yellow toilet. Eventually Marisol used it as well and we both moved on with out lives, trying to ignore the traumatic fact of the thing’s existence.

          Reduced now to my tux pants and t-shirt, I was grateful that I still, at least, had my shoes.

          I started to pace around the cell, careful to avoid the slowly drying puddle of puke and the makeshift latrine. Marisol did some stretching exercises on the floor. I counted to a thousand. We played word-association alphabet games.

          We got really hungry and joked about resorting to cannibalism. I actually started to hope we would see Spectros again.

          And about that time, we actually did.

          I had continued to walk around the cell, trying to ignore the gnawing sensation in my stomach, as if my internal organs had abandoned the thought of me getting them any food and decided to eat each other instead. Devoting significant mental processing power to a question that had occurred to me: how long had we been here? Judging by biological processes, it must be at least morning. But who knew how long either of us had slept?

          I’d been ignoring the dark space on the other side of the cell well, and had started to regard it as something like a black wall. But then there was Spectros’ face, and his grey-suited body, against the black like a propped-up corpse. My start almost sent me jumping into the mess in the middle of the floor.

          “Your presence has been requested,” he said, his voice piped in on those invisible speakers.

          This woke Marisol, who looked at me confusedly as she stood up.

          I stood there in the middle as the wall slid up again,  Spectros standing on the border between the light and the darkness.

          “Come with me,” he said, as if he was the maitre’d at some weird, Halloween-themed, chain restaurant.

          We followed.

          As we stepped out of the cell, I saw a series of walls slide upward in front of us, each of them opposite and slightly to the left of the one before, so that the path we walked curved in that direction. Light appeared, showing the way. We passed through at least four cells this way before we ended up in an actual corridor. This was a polished white as well, and made me feel like were were going to find ourselves in the tower from which Steve Jobs secretly ran the world. I guess I couldn’t fault the design sense of whomever had built this secret headquarters.

          I thought about commenting on the fact that Spectros hasn’t summoned any guards to help him with our transport, living or dead. Did that mean he trusted us, or that we weren’t a threat. I felt pretty confident that, had I wanted to, I could have taken him. But I wanted to find out what was going on more than I wanted that. At least that’s what I told myself.

          I had the sensation that we’d been on a gentle upslope for quite some time, and eventually were came to an arched doorway, cut with strange symbols on the ceiling around it. Symbols I was afraid that I recognized.

          Crimnorian symbols.

          Oh, shit, we couldn’t possibly be …

          Pulled through the doorway, I was in a chamber with a transparent ceiling, a dome that looked out at the sky.

          “Wes!” I heard Derek’s voice choke. He was standing in the center of this chamber, manacled, his hands together at his waist in front of him. Alice was next to him, a skin-colored film over her mouth so she couldn’t speak, her hands in the same position as Derek’s.

          An armored figure had his back to us, and next to him was a human figure, though from the deep white of his uniform and the red sigils emblazoned on the back, I knew he wasn’t human. He was something much more, and so much worse.

          I felt no motion, but the view above us changed, and I realized my suspicions were correct.  The Earth drifted into the view above us.

          And the Earth was burning.


Ep 09 : Ultimatum

          Even though I knew it wouldn’t do any good, I instinctively lifted my arm up in front of my face to ward off my zombie brother’s energy blast. Instead of feeling my skin crisped off and peeled away as my clothes were turned to ash, I actually saw the crimson-yellow blast split around me as I was pushed back by a wall of warmth.

          Then I was on the ground, on top of Derek, Marisol behind us. Why hadn’t all three of us been incinerated?

          It was then that I noticed the still-shimmering wall of energy that formed a shield in front of us, emanating from my watch, which now glowed with a golden power, completely charged. I’m sure that Dan would have been surprised if he’d been feeling anything at all. But he wasn’t Dan anymore, he was just a repository for Spectros’ sick magic.

          “Release my brother, you fucking necrophiliac,” I yelled at him, resting as I was in the intimidating position of having just been knocked on my ass.

          Spectros shrugged, and put a hand on the shoulder of Dan’s golden armor.

          I felt movement under me. Derek pushed me up and off of him, and whispered in my ear, “Wes, can you drop the shield?”

          “I didn’t even raise it,” I said. “Hell if I know how to drop it.”

          Derek cursed, and called back to Alice, who’d dove down into the shadows so as not to be incinerated by the spillover from the blast that I’d diverted. I couldn’t hear their conversation.

          Marisol stayed close behind me, for obvious reasons. I was trying my best not to look at my brother’s slack face, but it was hard to avoid. He was just staring there like some sort of robot, waiting for a command. I wondered if it mattered who the command came from.

          “Dan! Fry Spectros!” I called out in what I hoped was an authoritative voice.

          Nothing happened.

          “You can’t have thought that would work,” Spectros said.

          I just shrugged. It had been worth a shot.

          “Wes, quit helping,” Derek hissed at me.

          The glow from Dan’s armor intensified, filling the darkness, but it illuminated nothing that was more than six feet away from him, forming a bubble made of bright yellow paint in an ocean of ink. If anything, that darkness seemed thicker, more substantial, with the armor’s aura for contrast. This darkness didn’t seem like anything Spectros could have caused, at least not like anything he’d done before. But he had to be involved somehow.

          “How did you do it, Spectros?” Derek called out as he rose to his feet. “How did a puissant like you manage to defeat the light brigade.”

          Alice had come forward. She and Marisol crouched down behind Derek while I knelt at his side, keeping an eye on my shimmering shield, praying that it didn’t pick exactly the wrong moment to drop. It wasn’t like I had any control over it, at least not consciously.

          Spectros gave us a thin-lipped smile. “No, Mr. Trent. You’ll hear nothing about it from me. I’m not as stupid as you hope I am.

          “It doesn’t feel like his magic,” said Alice. “ He might have prepared the ground to raise the thralls, but the rest of this … I don’t think he did it.”

          “You hear that Spectros?” Derek yelled. “We can tell you didn’t do any of this. You’re taking credit for the work of your betters.”

          “You’re a stupid man, Trent,” Spectros answered. “I don’t know what you think you’re going to accomplish, but you won’t bait me.”

          We felt heat, even if we weren’t incinerated, by Dan’s renewed blast. I expected it to fade after a moment, but it continued, burning around us with a ferocity and continence that defied explanation. Dan’s energy powers – not that I really understood them all that well, to be honest – allowed for short, intense blasts. This … it seemed beyond anything he’d done before. Had his – I had to get used to using this word – death unlocked the armor from some self-imposed limit? If it had, what were we going to do about it? I was pretty sure my revived watch wasn’t going to keep up with it forever.

          “You still want me to drop this shield?” I asked Derek.

          “I withdraw the request.”

          Dan’s face had totally vanished in the light and in the fire. What was happening to him, really? If he was nothing but a zombie thrall now, how was he controlling all of this power? After all, fire was one of the surefire ways to kill a zombie.

          “Wes, get behind me,” Derek said. He was still standing, shielding Marisol and Alice from a heat that had intensified from searing to full-on blistering. I could see why. Dan’s energy was breaking down the shield. Already holes had appeared, melted-glass ruptures that we had to crouch down to avoid. Did Derek plan to save us all by shielding us with his body? That would probably be about as effective as trusting in a lead-lined refrigerator to survive a nuclear explosion. Sure, his sacrifice would be heroic. But it would also be futile.

          But he stood there and brought up his weapon, bracing himself against the recoil.

          Oh my God! Was he really going to …

          The shot shattered the air around us, penetrating my weakened shield as if it were made of some translucent cardboard. Before even checking to see if his bullet made his target, Derek dropped on top of us. The shield collapsed, using what was left of its power to form a glittering dome. I didn’t see it, thank God, but I heard a sick squelch as the side of Dan’s head caved in. Energy, now released from his control, exploded out in every direction.

          I don’t know what any of this looked like from the ground, but it must have been spectacular. The stone shuddered, then was rent with great cracks that spread, allowing between them spaces that let in that fountain of wind. It blew up at us as the stone split apart, falling upward in pieces shot out at the sky.

          The roar and the noise and the fiery shockwave turned to jello every part of my insides, and it was all I could do to grab hold of the nearest thing I could. I heard Marisol scream and I screamed as the rock ripped away around us and the world dissolved in fire as I was cast upward, into the heavens.


          I smelled like sweat and melted polyester. Not a great way to wake up. I just lay there, not moving, having the uncharacteristic presence of mind – after an involuntary crab-like waking spasm – to realize I needed to know what was around me before I let anyone who might be around know that I was awake. I wanted to open my eyes, but I was afraid, not only of who might see me, but also of what I might see.

          Fuck it! Patience and I weren’t exactly acquainted. I let my eyes open, just a sliver. That had to be safe enough, right?

          But opening my eyes didn’t do any good. I could still see nothing but darkness, so I went ahead and opened them all the way. With my luck, I was dead and in some black purgatory while the powers-that-be decided exactly what direction the elevator was going to go when it was my turn to push the button.

          My left eye didn’t want to open at all. It felt like it was at once swollen shut and crusted over. It didn’t really hurt –yet, I should probably add—but I could tell that it was really damaged. I brought my left hand carefully to my face so I could wipe away the gunk, hoping that the longer my eyes were open the more they’d adjust to this darkness and I could get some idea of where I was.

          Dan was dead. This thought shot into the middle of all the others stacked in my brain, imploding the entire construct. My big brother was dead, no way around that. I had seen the body. It had tried to kill me.

          And I’d failed in the one task he’d given me, uniting my watch with the rest of the armor so I could get it back to the council before it fell into the wrong hands.

          It was most definitely in the wrong hands now.

          Oh, God … how was I going to tell Laura? How was I going to tell Mom and Dad? These thoughts were enough to force my eyes closed once more. Fortunately, tears helped to clear away the crusted muck.

          The floor beneath me was smooth, and felt like cold, painted concrete against the skin of my cheek.  This was the first time I’d processed the information that I was not lying in the middle of a pile of rubble. I was in a place that had been constructed.

          Where the hell was I?

          I opened my eyes again, and forced myself up on my arms. This was, apparently, enough motion that I tripped some kind of sensor, and bright white lit up the space around me. This was worse than the darkness, stabbing through my eyeballs directly into my brain.

          I was right. I’d been lying on a concrete floor, the ceiling above me a honeycomb of white octagons and latticework. Around me, space stretched out into darkness, but I could tell by the reflected white light that I was surrounded by walls made of glass or plexi or – who knows? – pure force. None of the other chambers were lit, so it was hard to see if anyone was in them.

          I thought about standing up, but as I tried to get back to my feet, all of the blood rushed out of my head and I slammed back down on me knees to keep from falling over.

          New plan. I slid backwards on my ass, until my back hit the smooth surface of my cell’s wall. I leaned against it as my vision stopped rippling and the throb in my head subsided. It was weird. I could see that this cell was octagonal, matching the pattern of the latticework above. Around this cell it seemed like there were more off in every direction.

          The light flicked on in the cell next to mine, triggered by movement as my lights had been. Marisol rose from the floor, pushing herself up as she drew her legs around her, as confused and terrified as I was. Her white shirt was streaked with soot and her hair, still thick and curly on the right side, seemed to have been singed away on the left. There were also blistered white-red welts on the left side of her face.

          We locked eyes through the transparent wall, and her mouth formed words. She was calling out to me, but I couldn’t hear anything she said. I got up and went to the wall we shared, and yelled her name into it. It was clear that she couldn’t hear me either.

          She met me there, raising her fist to pound on the wall. I heard it as the sound of a distant thunder.

          She continued to pound on the wall, and I joined my fists to hers, which did nothing but make everything louder. That was ok. Loud was good. Loud distracted us from the seriousness of our situation. After a few minutes of this, my hands were tired and sore, and I could see the skin swelling with purple and black bruises. So we stopped.         

          Would the noise we’d made rouse anyone else who happened to be in these cells? Were Derek and Alice, hell, even Michael and Peg, lying unconscious in the adjoining chambers? Either our noise hadn’t carried past our own space, or there was no one there, because no light answered us and no one else appeared.

          Tired again, I leaned my shoulder against the wall and slid down so that I was resting on the floor. Marisol did the same thing. She looked at me and brought her hand up to her left eye, visibly wincing.

          I nodded to say, “Yeah, it hurts,” and then gestured to ask about her injuries. She just shrugged and felt at her face, and then the side of her head where her hair had been burned away. She patted the area, realizing for the first time that great patches of it were gone.

          I tried to mouth that it looked fine, but that wasn’t an idea I found easy to communicate nonverbally, especially while my face was swollen up.

          Since my tux jacket was in tatters around me, I shrugged it off and was now just in my sweaty-sooty white shirt and black pants, which weren’t in much better shape. I’d lost the bow tie a long time ago. It was a good thing I’d given up on getting my deposit back.

          It was just too hard to try to talk, and neither of us were feeling well enough to sustain the effort. We just stayed there together, resting on either side of that wall. I can’t speak for Marisol, but it was actually a comfort just to know I wasn’t completely alone.

          Were they dead, Derek and Alice and Michael? I seemed pretty likely. Since I had no idea of how I’d survived and come to be wherever the hell I was, I guess thinking about that wasn’t going to be a great use of my time and attention.

          After a few minutes of quiet, I heard a noise, a rumbling overhead as some geared appliance started to work, and then, remarkably, the wall between Marisol and me started to slide upward. As soon as there was room, I crawled under it, into her cell, just in case it was going to close again.

          We sat there together in the middle of our conjoined chambers. Now that I was here, I had no idea what to say.

          She saved me. “Are you all right?”

          “Just banged up,” I replied manfully. “I’ll be ok. How about you?”

          She shrugged again. “How are we going to get out of here?”

          “I think I’m the wrong guy to ask.”

          “What about … ?” She pointed toward my watch, and let her eyes travel slowly from it to my face.

          “This thing … I don’t have any idea of what it does or how it does it. Used to be, I press down on the face and my brother comes running to get me out of whatever mess I’d gotten myself into. That’s obviously not going to work anymore.”

          “I’m sorry …”

          “Yeah, well … we’ve lost them all, haven’t we?”

          “I still haven’t seen Robbie. I’m still hoping.”

          “That’s true. That’s good.”

          “If anything’s happened to him, I need to talk to him. He can’t be dead yet … I have to tell him …”

          “Yeah,” I said as she trailed off. It felt like we were getting into some weirdly personal area. Not that I minded.

          “We’re going to have a baby,” She said. “He doesn’t know it yet. I was going to tell him tonight.”

          “Oh, wow, that’s … congratulations.”

          She accepted with a reluctant smile. “He has to know. That’s why I came with you. I have to tell him that, if nothing else.”

          “I get it,” I said. “You’re ok, right?”

          “I think everything’s fine. Of course, there’s no way to be sure, but for now I have to be careful and just behave like everything is ok. That’s all I can do, right?”

          “The good news,” came a voice from all around us, thrumming deep into our bones and bouncing off the walls, “is that, should your beloved be dead after all, I think you have a willing volunteer to be a father to your child should it ever be born. “

          I stood up and helped to pull Marisol to her feet. “Spectros!”

          “But should you decide to ensure your child will know it’s true father,” The voice came again as the cell on the other side of us lit up, revealing Spectros standing there, his right hand slipped inside the double-breasted coat of his grey suit. Slowly, the wall slid upward, and he took a few formal steps toward us.

 “A choice for you, my dear young mother,” he said, and withrew a pistol from his jacket and held it out to her. “Put a bullet through this young man’s head, and you will be reunited with your one true love.”

          She regarded him warily. “I’ve seen enough bad movies to know this. You have a trick. He’ll be a corpse, or a zombie like Solstice, or you’ll kill me and say ‘you can be together in the next world.’”

          “I will do nothing of that sort. Scorpyon is alive and will be returned to you if you do what I’ve asked. I swear a mystic oath, which is binding upon me.”

          Marisol looked at me. “Wes …?”

          I had no response.

          “You know I have no choice.”

          Panic choked me. Was she actually going to do this?”

          She took the gun Spectros offered, and he backed away as the wall slid back into place. “Please know, these walls are bulletproof. Shooting at them will do no good. I have not given you a way to escape.”

          This was the first time I’d considered throwing myself into a room alone with Spectros as a viable option, if only I’d acted in time.

          “I’m sorry, Wes,” Marisol said, and pressed the gun against my temple.


Ep 08: Burning Dark

I followed Derek into the elevator. He seemed grim now, ignoring the rest of the people who’d accompanied him into the well as more of his men arrive to man the station and turn it into a de facto XDF base. Alice, still silent, was with us as, and as the elevator doors were beginning to close, they were blocked by the arrival of one more: Marisol.

          She stared at Derek as if she expected to be argued with. But Derek didn’t argue; he just shrugged and beckoned her to enter fully so the doors could close.

          When we reached the top, and the little cleared space we’d used in our landing, we saw more black-suited XDF agents jumping out of a helicopter that hovered there, almost, but not quite, making a landing.

          As we moved toward the other helicopter, the one we’d arrived in and which was waiting for the other one to leave before its own blades began to whir, Derek moved off to the side and took Alice by the arm. He brought her close, in an obvious attempt at privacy, which I refused to respect. What happened next was going to affect all of us—there weren’t going to be any private conversations, at least not any that did not include me.

          He gave me an annoyed look as he asked Alice, “Are you going to be ok? Can you handle this?”

          She just looked at him and made as if to stammer out a response, which he cut off before she could get started.

          “I might need you, but I don’t know what else we’ll see, Alice. I know the magic that you and Mysteria work has a lot to do with emotion and intent … If you’re not ok, I’ll do whatever I can to help you get that way, but I need to know.”

          She scowled a bit as she said, “I don’t know how anything else we’d see could be worse than … than what we found. I’ll be ok. Anger is useful.”

          “That it is.”

          Behind us, the elevator opened again, revealing Michael and Pegasus. Derek locked eyes with Michael and nodded. Pegasus gave me what I had to assume was a look of warning.

          “Let’s get going,” Derek said, and helped Alice up into the helicopter.

          She looked at me as I climbed in after her. Something was restored now, some sense of purpose or personal strength that had melted away as she’d held Mysteria’s head in her hands. Derek’s reminder that there was still more to do seemed to have been just what she needed.

          We were facing each other, Alice and I, and as I settled down and strapped in, I watched her bring the bead-and-braid bracelet up and inspect the gentle purple orb that still glowed there.

          Marisol strapped in next to me, waving off Derek’s offered assistance at drawing the safety harness around herself and strapping it shut. I wondered why Derek wasn’t making any kind of protest at letting her come along. She wasn’t exactly dressed for any sort of action, wearing a black dress underneath an oversized men’s white, button-down shirt. She was even wearing heels, for crying out loud.

          “I know,” she said. “I didn’t exactly get home in time to change after my show.” I must not have been inspecting her apparel as surreptitiously as I’d thought.

          “Your show?” I was about to ask her if she was a stripper, but for once, I stopped myself.

          “I’m a singer-songwriter,” she said. “I play a couple of clubs downtown.”

          “Oh,” I said, at once elated and disappointed by this new information.

          Derek hopped in and gave the thumbs up signal to the pilot. After a few noisy moments, the world fell away and my stomach gave a little twist.

          The sky appeared, then the ground, Nova City, still swathed in its dark blanket, studded in places with fire.

          “You think they’re dead, don’t you?” Marisol said. I wasn’t sure why she was talking now, but I wasn’t sorry to be the person she was talking to.

          “I hope not,” I offered, partly because it was true, and partly because I didn’t know what else to say.

          “It’s your brother … Sir Solstice?” It was weird, she was having to work to be heard over the noise of the copter, but her tone was casual, almost too casual, as if the conversation was the only thing keeping her from breaking down completely.

          I nodded because I didn’t feel like yelling.

          “We were supposed to have dinner tonight,” she continued. “I was late because I stopped at the grocery store after my set. I was trapped there before Juanita found me.”

          I nodded again.

          “Our building is just … it’s gone. What was that thing?” She looked away from me then and got quite. I looked up to see Alice, smirking of all things, and thought that I should probably say something reassuring to fill the space, but I didn’t have anything to say, and the answer to her question would take too long to explain.  I watched as we turned in the air and Pegasus appeared, framed in the open doorway.

          I thought about where we were going, and wondered, was I insane? Were we all insane? What if the battle was still raging? Whatever had happened here, it had caused Lady Peace to be thrown down from the heavens. What did we think we were going to accomplish against such a force if it was still there?

          I pulled the crappy little disposable camera out of the pocket of my really the worse for wear tux jacket, and held it there in my hands. Something about doing that made me feel better, but I wasn’t exactly sure why.

          We were up high enough now that the air that blew in over us was coldsnap-chill. Marisol turned her face away from the rush and unconsciously leaned toward me as her onyx curls were blown across her face. I leaned forward as far as my straps would let me, looking to see what I could of our destination.

          The stone hung in the air, under what power I could not begin to guess. From where we were now, it was just a dark spot in space. We were just a little under it and angled away so that if there had been anything large enough that it was visible from the side, we wouldn’t have been able to see it. The stone shrunk as we moved away to try to rise above it, and  the copter shook. Marisol grabbed on to her harness and I sat back and allowed myself to be held in mine.

          Outside, Peg and Michael peeled away, Peg’s great wings stretched out to their full span as she tried to rise up on the winds, Michael flat and forward, holding on to her with all his strength. She rose then, more quickly than should have been possible, and I lost sight of them until we’d risen up on the other side of the stone. She tumbled, fighting the wind, then vanished again.

          Our copter shone spotlights down on the stone, but they did not highlight anything revelatory; it still looked like nothing more than a big flat rock hanging in the sky. For Nova City, this was pretty mild stuff. I scanned its surface for a sign of anyone’s presence, and figures lying prong among pieces of shattered boulder. We weren’t close enough to be able to make anything out, and it was covered in darkness besides.

          I couldn’t even see if Michael and Pegasus had landed yet.

          Then we started shaking. Actually, that was an understatement. What we’d experienced before had been like mild airplane turbulence. Alarming, but not rising to the level of terror. What we hit now shook us like we were some kid’s toy helicopter that had been accidentally thrown in the drier. We were tossed end over end with such violence that I lost my grip on my crappy little camera. It bounced against Marisol’s temple as it made its way out the door.

          There was a fountain of air pushing up and around the stone, shooting at the sky. I suppose it was what was keeping it aloft, but the exact physics of the thing escaped me.

          There was no question. We were going to die.  I just gritted my teeth to keep from screaming, held on to my harness, and waited for it to be over. I did not close my eyes. I wanted to see.

          Alice’s eyes were shut and she moved her lips as if in prayer, but I couldn’t hear her over the roar of the wind’s roar and the copter’s drone.

          And then it was over. The wind-fountain ceased and our pilot – who was better at his job than I could ever hope to be at mine, and who deserved a thousand percent raise – got the craft righted. I couldn’t see the stone anymore, but after a second I realized that we were above it now, and must be descending.

          Where were Michael and Peg? How could they have made it through that, anyway?

          “Everybody ok?” Derek called out. We all mumbled unconvincing replies in the affirmative. Even though the visual markers around us made it difficult to actually see what was happening, I could feel our descent in my gut and in the panicked flutter of my heart. I tensed up, waiting for that thud that would let us know we had once more been safely caught by the world.

          It came, jarring, rougher than I’d expected. My chin hit my collarbone and pain flashed in my neck and shoulder. Marisol let out a high-pitched hiss.

          “You ok?” I asked her, doing Derek’s job for him.

          “Yeah,” she said.

          “I looked at Derek for some sign of what was going to happen now. Since he’d unstrapped himself, I did too, but he was out of the copter before I’d managed to extricate myself from my safety harness.  I meant to get down just after him and help Marisol (and yes, Alice too), but she was in front of me and halfway through the door before I got there. While I waited for her, I looked out at the place where we’d landed.

          From here, it just looked like were were on the flat peak of some freakishly tall mesa, like devil’s tower on Viagra. The ground immediately around us was mostly even, if rust-colored and scarred,  and had wide gashes cut through it, as if the stone had been raked by the claws of a giant wolverine.

          I wished I could get a shot of it, but all I had left was my camera phone and anything I took with it would be a muddled, blotchy mess in this light. I leaped down and found the ground solid enough beneath my feet.

          Another helicopter was over us, but on the other side of the wind. We watched as it made an attempt to get through, was pushed up and out, and ended up once again on the other side. This pilot must not be as good as ours was.

          Derek watched it, a wince frozen on his face. For a second it looked like the second copter was going to fall out of the sky, but it managed to find purchase in the air and hang there.

          It was dark, the light from out copter’s spotlights all that allowed us to see the mostly empty space around us.

          I didn’t know which would be worse, finding Dan dead up here or having the trail go cold. At this point, no information was almost worse than bad news.

          The sky around us was just as dark as the ground. Some kind of smog or smoke or clouds or other, worse thing had blacked the stars. Some lights stabbed out at us through the wall of wind, as the second helicopter circumnavigated the stone, looking for a way through. There was still ni sign of Michael or Peg.

          My arm buzzed again. Heat flashed on my wrist, the way it had back at The Well. My arm jerked upward and all I could do was stare at it, not comprehending.

          “Wes?” Derek said. Marisol watched me expectantly. The watch pulsed, and with each burst of light there was a corresponding flash of heat. It wasn’t hot enough to actually burn me, but it was getting close.

          “Move around and see if it changes,” Alice offered. At my blank look, she continued,” If it’s keyed in to your brother’s armor, it could be acting as a beacon. It has to be drawing power from somewhere, maybe that’s where.”

          “Yeah,” I said. Marisol and Derek were still just looking at me, with no other suggestions, so I took a few steps, toward the place where our light met the darkness. The bursts stayed the same fore the first few steps, but then increased in frequency by a barely perceptible degree. I kept walking and the effect continued. Alice was right.

          It didn’t take me long to enter the dark place fully. There was no gradual transition, it was like a wall of complete black that enveloped me, with my wrist casting the only glow. I looked back, toward the light, and could still see it even if it felt like none of it was actually cast on me anymore.

          Alice was still there, behind us, but Derek and Marisol were on other side of me. I could barely see them and knew them more as a sensation of movement. All I could do was keep walking, and hope like hell that I wasn’t going to stumble over the edge, or step into some sort of swiss-cheese hole that went all the way through the rock. If there was such a thing, it would be just like me to find it.

          “We’re with you, Wes,” Derek said, and I felt his hand on my shoulder, which did make me feel a little better.

          My watch was almost constantly hot and bright now. What was I supposed to do with that? I just kept going.

          Soon, I could discern there in the darkness a softly glowing, vaguely human form. Its outline, what I could see of it, was familiar.

          Worse, there was someone else there. And as the figure started to glow as my watch was brought into closer proximity, I began to be able to make out this second person’s face in the orange-yellow light from my brother’s armor.

          The face was pale, and the hair was pale too, over a dark suit. The eyes, though, the eyes glowed green with a fire I’d seen before. At the hospital, as Doctor Tanya had tried to choke me to death with her cold hands.

          But this one was no thrall.

          “Spectros,” Derek spit from behind me.

          The figure in my brother’s armor moved. My brother moved. Pushing himself up, onto his feet as Spectros moved away.

          “I knew you’d be along,” Spectros said. “I have a surprise.”

          “Dan!” I called out, and ran toward him, but Derek lunged forward to grab me. “Wes, no!” He cried out, and as my eyes locked with my brother’s and saw the green fire there, I knew why.

          Dan raised up his hands, and the world was lost in fire and light.


Ep 07 – Messenger

          A pool of slick, purple-black blood formed around Alice’s feet, and I couldn’t stop looking at it, watching how the color was leeching into the bottoms of Alice’s shoes, which had at one point in the distant past been white.  I guess it was better than looking at the source of the blood, that gently-glowing severed head Alice was holding in her hands.

          Mysteria’s eyes were not closed, but they were vacant. If she had anything else to say, she wasn’t going to say it now. Still, Alice held out the head and watched it as if she expected it to speak again. I couldn’t blame her, really.

          She held it out in front of her until that glow faded and then it was what it was, a gruesome reminder of the severity of our situation. The rest of us stood around Alice, not saying anything, not knowing what to say. Derek watched the head as if it was a bomb he expected to go off, and who was to say that it wasn’t? Everyone else just stood there, silent.

          Everyone but Michael. He left Alice’s side and went to the table. Bellerophon’s body was still sprawled there, his hands falling limply at his side now that they were no longer clutching Mysteria. Michael used one of the chairs as a stepping stool and knelt on the table, beside Bellerophon. He put one hand on his cheek and the other on his shoulder, and shook him gently.

          “Peter,” he said, his voice starting as a whisper and then getting progressively louder. “Peter … come on, Peter, come on.”

          But Peter, Bellerophon, didn’t answer. And wasn’t likely to, I guess. Michael leaned over, put an ear against his chest, then rose and tried to take his pulse by using his carotid artery. He looked back at Derek a couple of times and shook his head curtly, but added, “It might not mean anything. It might not…”

          “Michael,” Derek said. “I’ve called for a team.”

          Michael nodded his head, but didn’t let go of Bellerophon. I could see tears there in his eyes, but he was trying really hard to keep it together.

          I had moved off to the side, and found myself standing next to Marisol and Juanita.  I looked over at Marisol, who just looked scared. It wasn’t hard to understand why. Were we looking at the future? Was I going to be holding on to Dan like Alice was holding on to Mysteria? Was Marisol going to find her fiancée, Scorpyon, lying dead tonight? Bellerophon and Mysteria were both insanely powerful, not to mention Lady Peace. Whatever was happening … it was unlikely Dan and Scorpyon would be unhurt.

          “Alice,” Derek had come to Alice’s shoulder, and he reached out and took Mysteria’s head from her, but she wouldn’t let him take it. “No,” she said. “I’ve got her. I’ve … I’ve got her.” She was trembling a little, so Derek pulled her a little closer to the table and made her sit down in one of the chairs. She closed her eyes and sat down, holding the head and swiveling like she was a child holding a stuffed toy.

          “Alice, you saved Lady Peace … is there any way …?” This was from Michael, who held on to Bellerophon’s hand and he scooted closer to Alice.

          “If he’s alive,” Alice said. “I can see …”

          Derek and Michael slid Bellerophon’s body closer to Alice, and then Alice allowed Derek to take Mysteria’s head. He looked around like he was searching for a place to set it down, but no place seemed really appropriate. Then he looked at me as if he expected me to take it, but there was no way that was going to happen.

          Not even Derek would force someone to take hold of a severed head they were dead-set against handling, so he just stood there with it. Marisol and I watched Alice and she knelt on the table, next to Michael and Bellerophon.  She didn’t have the books anymore, I guess she’d left those in the helicopter, but she must have had whatever spell she’d readied before still at her disposal, because she put a hand on Bellerophon’s brow and another on his chest, and closed her eyes to chant softly. A purple glow poured out of the skin on her hands, but nothing else happened.

          For a second I watched the space just above her, thinking of the little demonlings that had emerged at the hospital. But I didn’t see anything like that, either. Which was good.

          She looked at Michael, shook her head softly, then returned to work. Michael had backed away, giving her room, and an electric crackle filled the air around her. I could feel it lifting my hair and sparking at my fingertips.

          Then it was gone, and Alice collapsed on top of Bellerophon’s chest.

          “Michael, I … I’m sorry. There’s … there’s just not enough left.”

          Michael didn’t say anything, but his face went cold. He looked down at Bellerophon and put his own and next to Alice’s, atop the warrior’s chest. “This can’t be over,” he said, just loud enough for me and Marisol to hear. I looked over at Marisol, whose eyes were closed, as if she didn’t want to witness this moment. I should have closed mine to, but I’ve never been one not to look at something that was in front of me.

          Alice moved closer to Bellerophon again, but this time Derek moved forward and grabbed her by the shoulder, pulling her back gently. “Alice,” he said. “Don’t … don’t do something that’s going to damage yourself. You know … you know this is over.”

          She just looked at him and nodded, then slid across the table, into the nearest chair. She laid her head on the table and covered it with her arm, exhausted. Derek balanced Mysteria’s head there beside her, and then moved off, toward me.

          “Wes, let’s see what we can find in the record here. I want to know what happened, what got this started. Then I think we both know where we need to go from here.”

          I nodded. I did know.

          Marisol and Juanita followed me and Derek as we went to the bank of monitors on the far wall. Ordinarily, there was a holographic projection that glowed above the central table, an interactive display cribbed from Crimnorian tech. With the other monitors alive and active, we both wondered aloud why that one wasn’t working as well.

          “You need to talk to us, Agent Trent,” Juanita called out. Her arms were folded across her chest as she walked, a posture that was understandably defensive. “What are you talking about. What do you know?”

          “Just a minute, Juanita,” Derek said.

          “Please, Derek. This is my son.”

          “I know, I know.” He was bent over one of the control panel. I looked back at the pleading woman, wondering if I should be the one to tell her everything we knew. Why should Derek be the one who gets to decide who knows what?

          But he saved me by speaking. “You know about the attacks earlier tonight, right? The hospital explosion? The monster? Well, apparently someone drew out the Light Brigade, all of them. Lady Peace fell from the sky. We just found Mysteria and Bellerophon. We’re still looking for Sir Solstice and Scorpyon. We don’t know what’s happened exactly, or who’s behind it. That’s all I have right now.”

          “That thing in the sky, the rock that was flashing earlier tonight?” Juanita asked. “Is that where my son is?”

          “It could be,” Derek said. “But we don’t know. It’s my next destination if I don’t find another lead here.”

          I was a little disturbed by his use of personal pronouns in that statement, but decided that it would be an argument for later. Derek continued to work at the monitors, and I saw timestamps appear on the little screen he utilized. He was looking back through the record.

          Then something on my hip buzzed and I panicked for a second until I realized it was my cel phone. I picked it up, almost as frightened of this reminder of mundanity than I had been by anything that had happened this night, and saw Laura’s picture pop up on the screen. Of course it was Laura. I was surprised it had taken her this long to get in touch.

          “Wes, anything?” she asked.

          I thought about how much I should tell her before I decided that was stupid and I should just tell her everything. “No Dan, yet. But we found Mysteria and Bellerophon. They didn’t make it.”

          There was a choked silence before she continued, “Where are you? Are you all right?”

          “I’m fine. We’re at The Well. We’re still trying to figure out what happened.”

          “Any leads?”

          “Nothing but that it’s big. But you knew that. How is Chloe?”

          “Asleep the last time I heard, thank god. Claire and Ben’s section of town escaped the worst. Nice job with the monster, by the way.”

          “I didn’t do anything. It was all Alice.”

          “Well, pass it along.”

          “I will.”

          “And tell me when you know anything. I mean the instant, all right. No matter what it is. You know you don’t have to protect me.”

          “Yeah, I know.”

          “Be safe Wes,” she said, and was gone.

          Maybe I didn’t have to protect her, but who was going to protect me?

          “Hey,” Derek said, looking at me, but getting the attention of Marisol and Juanita as well. “An hour ago.”

          I had to look around Marisol’s shoulder as Derek cued up the appropriate screen.

          “We can see where they came in,” he said. The image on the screen showed the inner chamber of the well, with the monitors lit and the central table empty. After a few seconds, there was a burst of purple light, and Bellerophon collapsed onto the table, holding an object we couldn’ make out even though we knew what it was. He staggered there on his knees for a second, and then fell over onto his back, in the position in which we’d found him.

          “That,” I started, frustration starting to boil in my voice, “was spectacularly unhelpful.”

          “You never know,” Derek said. And he ran the video again. I didn’t feel like watching it, but Juanita did. She practically had her head resting on Derek’s shoulder.

          I went to another one of the wall-screens, looked at the live feed of the city again. It was still dark, still smoldering, but it didn’t look like the damage had spread. Maybe the worst was over.

          I touched on of the sensors, and my watch beeped. It vibrated for almost a second, and at first I thought it was some freaky confusion with my cel phone, but then it flashed, and all the lights in the chamber shut off for a second, then came on again.

          The image projector came to life over the table. Bellerophon’s body and Michael’s kneeling form were overlaid with a three dimensional image of my brother’s face.

          It was just there, his face, his head, looking for all the world like he’d become a severed-headed giant and was looking at me. It was all I could do not to call out to him.

          “Wes, what did you do?” Derek said. He’d turned around and was facing the table alongside me.

          Michael moved off the table, came to stand beside Derek.

          “This message will play if something has happened to me,” it began. “If it’s all a mistake, I’m sorry to scare everyone, but … anyway, I set this to play for either Wes or Laura, keyed to the watch and the pendant. You know what I’m talking about.”

          “I guess I’m glad you’re here after all,” Derek whispered.

          “If something has happened to me, you need to get the watch and the pendant and reunite it with my armor. It’s all that will allow you to control it, otherwise, it’s just dead. You need to take care of it until the council comes for it. It can’t be allowed to fall into the wrong hands, so if nothing else, secure the watch and the pendant.”

          “Oh … kay,” I said. Seriously, this was his last message to his wife and his little brother and all he had were instructions on what to do with his armor? I would have been offended if I wasn’t still freaked out of my mind.

          “Laura … Wes. I love you. I hope I got to say goodbye. If I didn’t … be safe. Take care of each other, and know that you were the reason for everything I did.”

          There were a few seconds where Dan’s face was just blank, unmoving, and then the message cycled again. We all watched it, silent.

          Finally, Derek’s eyes caught mine.

          “Anything else?” I asked him.

          “I’d like to know what Mysteria’s message meant,” Derek said softly. He looked at Alice, who nodded as well. “Who betrayed them? Who was she talking about?”

          Pegasus had cantered further into the room. He ignored Dan’s projection to put his head on Michael’s shoulder.

          “You said we needed to go up to that rock!” Juanita reminded Derek. “What are we waiting for?”

          “Do you really think that’s where they are?” Marisol asked. The hope in her voice mirrored my own. I’m not sure why, but even though it had been intended to have the opposite effect, seeing Dan’s face had just removed the reality of his  possible death from my mind. After all, he wasn’t here dead with the other two. There was still hope.

          “I don’t know, but we’re running out of options. I’m sending a team up there.”

          “We have to go,” I said. “You and me, at least.”

          “You’re not leaving me here, Juanita said.

          “You need me,” Alice added.

          “Wes, Alice, you have a case,” Derek said. “The rest of you, it’s going to be incredibly dangerous. You can stay here and watch. No arguments.”

          He strode off toward the door, looking back at me as if he expected me to follow.

          I followed, as Alice did after me. We were headed to the scene of the Light Brigade’s last battle.

Interlude 1 – Sunset

8 hours ago


          Natalie Jensen stood in Aaron Trent’s office, right in front of the windows that overlooked downtown Nova City. The sun, dropping into the ocean on the other side of the city, splashed purple-amber light on her face. It felt good, to be here at Sunset, no one else had a better view of the city at this moment, so she took seconds to lay down on Trent’s desk the file folders she’d been holding and just wait there instead of doing what she usually did and getting immediately back to work. She’d spent her dinner break preparing these statements for him to sign, so he couldn’t begrudge her a few minutes just to rest.

          She was always surprised at how spare Trent’s office was. It was huge – it took up one quarter of the TrenTech building’s top floor—but there was nothing in it, really, not even a family photo on the desk, that represented the man her boss really was. It was all chrome and glass. All function. Awards on the wall, but no mementos.

          Not that she really knew who the man was, either. She’d been his assistant for five years. They’d had working lunches together, working dinners too, and she’d been to his house a couple of times, but always on errands, making deliveries, picking up packages that needed to be mailed. He told her that he trusted her, liked her, saw himself in her. But she had no idea what any of that meant.

          And she didn’t know where he was now. He’d had her clear his afternoon calendar so he could work on one of his “special projects”. It made her wonder if she could get away with going ahead and leaving without being dismissed to work on a special project of her own.

          Surely, Jenn would be finished with classes by now. Maybe they could have a nice dinner together … they could both take an evening off and just … just be together. They hadn’t been seeing each other long, but Jenn … Jenn was special. Special and secret.

          She hadn’t felt like this about anyone for a long time.

          But she had to snap out of it. She really couldn’t go until she found out if there was something else Mr. Trent needed from her. Her job didn’t have official hours, as such. She knew he would probably dismiss her, she just needed to have the confirmation.

          She dialed his cel phone number and was unsurprised when she heard the series of clicks that indicated the call was being routed along the building’s own communications network.  He was still here, somewhere.

          She heard the line opened, some strange noise in the background.

          “Mr. Trent?” She picked up the receiver so that she could hear better.

          “Natalie!” He’d never sounded so happy to say her name. If she didn’t know any better, she’d even guess that he was drunk. But she’d never seen him partake of so much as a sip of beer.

          “Mr. Trent … I was … where are you?”

          “I’m in sub-basement seven. And I have something that I think I’d like to show you.”

          Show her? Was he drunk? Was she about to be propositioned by her boss? “Do you want me to wait for you here, Mr. Trent?” She asked him.

          “Why don’t you come down.”


          “Come on, Natalie. You know about the private elevator in my office.”

          “I’ve never been in that one before, sir,” She said. “When I asked about it you said to leave it alone.”

          “There’s a proper time for everything, Miss Jensen,” Trent said. The line cut off, but she heard a gentle hum coming from the corner of the room. Soon, one of the wood-paneled walls slid open, revealing the gleaming silver interior of an elevator car.

          This might be a bad idea, but he was her boss. Besides, she was curious. She could be the first person in the world to get a look at TrenTech’s newest innovation.

          Maybe he was going to unveil the 5G T-phone.

          She got into the elevator. The keypad had only one button. It made stops on no other floors. It was strange, but it didn’t really surprise her. After the doors closed, she felt almost no motion for the few seconds she knew herself to be descending down to sub basement seven.

          The doors opened again on a steel-grey chamber lit with white bright light. In the center was a circular theater, almost like a surgical facility. A ring of light cast down the white glow here, which gleamed from every surface but the matt-black form that stood in the center of it.

          “Mr. Trent!” Natalie called out. She walked toward this central theater slowly. From all around her she heard a soft thrumming, intercut by the clicking of her high heels on the polished concrete floor. Through the light, she couldn’t quite make out the great dark figure that rested there. Was this Trent? Surely not?

          Then it moved. Its shoulders straightened, and it revealed itself as a hulking metal man-thing. Rising up to its full height, it was half-again as tall as Natalie was herself. As it moved, it was lit from within, blue-white light pouring out through its joints, and through the holes of its vaguely man-shaped face. The mask gave the effect of a kabuki warrior.

          “Mr. Trent?” She asked again, looking around for any other sign of him.

          “Natalie,” the thing spoke. Its voice was amplified and modulated, but still recognizably that of Aaron Trent. “I wrestled great Hephaestus himself for this design, to make my vision come to life.”

          She stared at the thing as it moved, lifting its arms over its head, then taking one, impossibly graceful, step toward her. “What is this?”

          “We called down Gods,” he said, and something else inside the suit of armor came to life, the blue-white glow shifting along the spectrum to crimson and orange. “We’ve called down Gods to remake the world.”

          “Mr. Trent, you’re not making any …”

          “Bring anyone you love down here, to this place, which will become the under-palace of the seat of a new kingdom on a new Earth.”

          This was … there was no part of this that wasn’t crazy.

          “Take the gift I’m offering you, Natalie,” Trent said again. “Survive tonight.”

          His fingers flexed. One hand reached up to tap something on his opposite wrist, and the he was gone, leaving nothing but a clap of air behind him.   

Ep 06 – Threshhold

            Alice’s face was calm, though still infused with violet light. I couldn’t believe the serenity there, if she really meant what she’d just said.

          “You know where they are?” I asked her.

          “I think,” she said. “My tracking spell returned, and it brought back a result.

          “And …” Derek prodded her. “Where are they?”

          “At The Well,” she replied. “They’re at The Well.”

          The Well was the Light Brigade’s – for lack of a better word – secret headquarters, an underground bunker built in the 50’s as a supply depot for a series of defensive tunnels running through the mountain, sort of Nova City’s answer to the Maginot line. Those tunnels, however, had never been built, and the well had been decommissioned. Derek had helped to engineer its “loss” to the military and subsequent gift to the Light Brigade.

          “That’s impossible,” Derek said. “I checked The Well, no one was there.”

          “Did you actually go inside and look with your eyes?” She said. I was beginning to understand what she was getting at.

          “You think … what? Someone is there, sending a false feed through the monitors?” Derek challenged her.

          “No … yes. I don’t know. I only know what my working has told me. Jenn is at The Well. Or, at least she was there a few minutes ago when this was bounced back.

          “What did you do, like, ping her or something?” The look on her face told me that was exactly what she’d done, or the magical equivilant thereof. Also, I was an idiot.

          “That means I need to get over there,” Derek said.

          “We’re coming too,” said Mchael. He had one hand on Alice’s shoulder, which was making me uncomfortable for some reason I didn’t understand. I mean, I knew what “partner” meant.

          “No, you three are going back to your homes. Wes, go take care of Laura and the baby. I’ll be in touch with all of you when I know something.”

          I had to admit, the thought of a hot shower and a change of clothes, and sleep, was really appealing. Even if I would be sleeping on Dan and Laura’s couch. But I was still in agreement with Alice when she said, “There’s no way we’re going to sit around and wait for a phone call. We’re going with you. Michael and I will ride Pegasus if you won’t take us.”

          “And you’ll get in, how? You have the access code?”

          “Of course I have the access code. I’m also allowed in by ret-scan.”

          “You … that’s a major breach of the security protocol.”

          “I’m Mysteria’s apprentice.”

          It actually kind of hurt my feelings. I didn’t have anything like that kind of access. Maybe I wasn’t the mascot I thought I was.

          Alice turned to Michael and gave him a curt little victory nod, which he returned with a worried grimace that was probably an attempt at a congratulatory smile.

          “You people are officially up my ass, you know that?”

          “I had a feeling,” Alice said.

          Derek spoke into his lapel again, and told us to step to the curb. The gateway-monster’s legs were almost through dissolving into a pulpy black much that smelled like smoldering, fleshy, rot.

          I felt the wind pushing down on me from above and then four lights descended from the sky, blinding me for a second or two.

          Derek ushered us into the helicopter when it landed. Michael hung back and said he’d follow us on Peg. Alice offered to go with him, but he said it would be easier on the horse to carry fewer people. I didn’t care what happened as long as I didn’t have to get on it.

          Derek faced Alice and me, who were strapped into the back next to a rifle-wielding XDF agent. Derek didn’t look at either of us, but leaned back to talk to the pilot of our craft.

          I felt a little thrilling lurch in my stomach and all around us, through the open door and windows, darkness slid back to reveal thousands of scattered blobs of light below.

          The city smoldered and smoked, and was cut with wide swaths of darkness. Some of this was along a zigzag path cut by the monster, who’d caused power outages wherever he’d knocked over buildings and smashed down power lines. The center of town still glowed orange and red and black in the place where the hospital had been. I wondered how many zombie thralls has risen and been brainsplattered this evening. God, what a night.

          I wanted to talk about it with Dan. Where was he? What condition would he have had to be in to let this happen? He had to be alive, he just had to. I could deal with all of this as long as he was alive. That’s all I needed. Not even well, just alive. I’d help take care of Laura and Chloe. I didn’t care if he couldn’t walk, or go hiking with me, or hero around, or help me move when I got kicked out of my apartment. I just needed him to be around for me to talk to. Or at least to communicate through some eyelid-pop code that like diving butterfly guy.

          He had to be alive. Unhurt would be great, but all I was asking for was alive.   

          Beside me, Alice wasn’t looking outside. She was sitting with her head bowed, chanting something softly to herself. At first I though she was praying, afraid of flying or something, but it was too rhythmic for that.

          A bright white spot filled the space outside. Michael waved to us from his place atop Pegasus. Stupid horse. I rubbed at my hand when I looked at him. It’s possible I am a big baby when it comes to pain. Maybe. I wished I had some aspirin.

          Soon, the lights outside faded and the dark mountains rose around us. We could have used the secret tunnel that ran from the end of East End park, but I guess this was a more direct route.

          The copter landed on top of a flat space I would not have been able to see if I had not been looking for it. We set down with a gentle thud.

          Derek nodded at me, and then leapt down, onto the packed earth. I unstrapped my harness and followed him. There was no obvious indication in the space around us that we were near an entrance to any kind of structure, let alone a super-hero HQ. I myself had only been through this way once, when I was flown here by Dan, and that time I’d been too out-of-it to pay much attention to where I was going.

          Derek used a little flashlight to find the black steel panel set into a recessed groove cut into one of the boulders. The helicopter powered down as Michael soothed Pegasus.

          The panel had a series of black-light glowing squares, five of them, that Derek placed his fingers upon. The stone in front of us gave way and another black panel, this one stamped with the TrenTech Security logo, emerged in front of us.

          TrenTech. That’s a connection I hadn’t thought about in a while. I wondered how long it had been since Derek had spoken to his own brother.

          Without any other work on our part, the door opened. It was, remarkably, large enough to allow Pegasus entry, which thrilled me, of course, and the five of us, plus the XDF rifleman, entered the elevator.

          And we all fit, remarkably. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. The entire Light Brigade, plus Pegasus, with all their gear, had to take up more space than we did.

          We all fell to silence in the elevator. What was there to say, really? I’m not even sure what we were expecting to find. If the Light Brigade were just hanging out at the Well – well, why had they let the city burn? Were some of them – maybe even just Mysteria, since she could have teleported herself anywhere – lying here, wounded? What were we going to do for them?

          The elevator doors opened on the main lobby. It wasn’t empty.

          Two women sat on the concrete floor outside the blue steel doors that led to the main chamber. One of them was older, Hispanic, with bushy steel-grey hair and a blowsy, white-flowered shirt. The other was, well, I could only describe her as the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.

          She had long dark hair, with a little curl to it, dusky skin and eyes that glowed like polished onyx. She wore a little black dress beneath a man’s open white oxford that was several sizes too big for her and hung on her like an overcoat. It did nothing to hide her figure.

          “Juanita? Mari?” Derek said. “When I couldn’t get a hold of you, I had no idea …”

          “Our building was trashed,” the older one said. “My son said to come here if something like that ever happened … so we did.”

          “He said to come here?” Derek’s hand wiped sweat from his brow, then fell to his side. “I suppose he gave you the code too.”

          “He gave us both of them,” the younger woman said. “But this one isn’t working.”

          “It’s not working. Maybe you have the wrong one.”

          I had never met these two before, and from the looks on their faces, neither had Alice or Michael. But from the way Derek was talking to them, they had to be Scorpyon’s family.

          Which meant this girl must be his sister. We’d have a lot to talk about, including, apparently, the fact that I was already completely in love with her.

          “Alice, Wes, Michael,” Derek said, an acquiescent tone in his voice. “Meet Juanita Cisneros and Marisol Reyes. Juanita is Scorpyon’s mother. Mari is his fiancée.”

          Crap. Why hadn’t I checked the ring finger before getting all excited? “Nice to meet you,” I said out loud, though the phrase seemed weirdly formal, under the circumstances.

          Derek went to a small doorside panel and punched in an eleven digit code.

          That’s when the alarms went off.

          Red lights flashed all around us in the concrete antechamber, throwing crimson glare-spots on the walls and staining everyone’s skin a weird orange color. Pegasus reared, and Michael pushed Alice up against the wall to keep her from being trampled. But no one thought about me, and I got knocked off my feet to land on my face against the hard floor. I looked back up at the horse, who did not seem the least apologetic.

          Derek frantically coded numbers into the keypad, but nothing had an effect. If anything, the alarm noises were getting louder, the lights more severe.

          “Derek, what are you doing?!” Alice shouted at him.

          “Here, you enter the code, then. Maybe you have a different one.” Derek said, and stepped to the side to make way for her.

          Alice approached him, shrugged, and admitted, “I don’t actually know the code. I just said that so you’d bring us with you.”

          “That’s what I thought.” He returned his attention to the keypad again.

          I got to my feet with the help of Marisol, who was the only one who seemed to care that I was still on the floor. “Will someone shut off the noise?!” I shouted at Derek. It was all I could do not to scream as the sound grew louder until it was all I could hear; the volume caused physical pain.

          Derek pulled the ret-scanner to his eyes –the alarm shut off. But before I could even start to enjoy the new silence, there was a whirring sound. I looked up to see that in the ceiling a panel had opened, and now descended some weird machine, a bulbous rod with five tendrilous arms, each with four-fingered grips flexing out from the ends.

          The hell? I knew TrenTech had developed the security system for this place, but this? Was ridiculous.

          One arm shot out to grab Derek from behind. He reached for his sidearm before it yanked him backward and up at the wall near the ceiling, and actually got off a shot at the central control, but all the bullet did was ricochet around the chamber, chipping concrete and sending the rest of us to the ground. It stopped after hitting Pegasus in the wing.

          The horse whinnied angrily, and Michael yelled as the hands gripped him and pinned him to the wall opposite Derek. Alice was the next to be taken, then Juanita. Then the arms came for me. I’d seen enough to know to get up and run away from the last remaining arm, and it hit the concrete wall with a  brutal clank before attacking me again. I kept moving in a zig-zag pattern, hoping the same rule that applied to outrunning a crocodile would work here. Amazingly enough, it seemed to. But I knew I couldn’t keep outrunning it for long. For one, it was probably smarter than I was. And for another, it wouldn’t get tired. I could, I hoped, keep it away from Marisol long enough for one of us to do something. She was running for the elevator.

          Why couldn’t it have gone after stupid Pegasus?

          Finally, as I knew I had to eventually, I tripped. The thing grabbed me by the leg and yanked me up, so that my foot was pressed against the ceiling. As it did, I instinctively reached for my watch and banged the heel of my palm against its surface, feeling the familiar click that before had done my no good.  I don’t know what I was thinking. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t thinking anything at all.

          The arm stopped suddenly, leaving me suspended there. Something whirred again in the mechanical base in the center of the ceiling, and the defensive arm lowered me gently to the ground. I landed on my face again, but still.

          I rolled onto my side to see that everyone else was being lowered down too. They all looked just as confused as I was.

          “What did you do?” Derek asked me.

          “I … I don’t … all I did was push on the watch. But it’s dead. It shouldn’t have done anything.”

          “It obviously sent out some sort of signal,” Derek said. “The system must be programmed to respond to your brother’s tech.”

          “Whatever works,” Michael said, and he clapped me on the back. “I’d like to get a look at that watch later.”

          “O … K,” I replied. This was the first time that evening that Michael had really given me any sort of acknowledgement.

          Derek was already at the door, which had begun to slide open for us. The speed of its movement accelerated as I approached. This was weird. I wasn’t used to my presence actually being helpful. I was the official screw-up, remember? Hadn’t this system gotten the memo?

          “My question for you, Miss Nakamura,” Derek grumbled. “Is if Mysteria is actually here, like you said she was, why didn’t she turn off the system? Why was it on in the first place?”

          “I only know what my working told me,” Alice repeated.

          We entered through the now-open door. Most of us were still breathing heavily, and I think all of us were waiting for some new defensive measure to grab us, so we were happy to let Derek be the first one through. He waved his hand as he entered, and the lights came on.

          As did the wall monitors. They popped to life, one of them an aerial view of the city which took up an entire immense wall. It showed a newsfeed on the bottom, aggregated from different sources, and the city itself was a live view, showing the fires and dark patches. If they were here, you couldn’t say they’d ignored us for lack of knowledge.  If they weren’t, I guess our next step was to helicopter up to the rock, no matter how dangerous it turned out to be.

          But there was someone here. On the table in the center of the room, Bellerophon lay sprawled. Michael saw him and let out a little groan as he looked at his blood-splattered face, pushing past Derek to get to him.

          “Peter!” he cried out.  He was on top of the table, next to his partner, before any of us noticed that Bellerophon cradled a spherical object in one arm as if it were a football. Or a baby.

          The horror hit me as I realized that the spherical object had a face. Open eyes. A bleeding mouth. And it was the source of much of the blood that coated Bellerophon.

          Alice saw it too. “Oh … oh, God,” she choked.

          I put a hand on her shoulder as Derek got between Alice and the head of her mentor.

          But the eyes … they were, somehow alive, and glowing with the same purple Alice had been imbued with for so much of the night. Alice knocked Derek to the side, reached out, and picked up the head.

          Mysteria’s eyes locked on her apprentice. She spit out blood as she gasped her last words…

          “Be .. betray … betrayed us…”

          Her eyes closed, the violet light faded, and blood drained from her mouth and neck.

          Alice brought the face to her chest and sobbed.

          I thought about Dan, and I cried too.


Ep 05 : A Wound in the World

          My hand throbbed. The stupid horse’s teeth had broken the skin. This wasn’t just some nibble, wasn’t some “hey-watch it!” little snap to let me know he was annoyed. No, this was a full-on bite from a seriously pissed-off legendary winged battle-horse who probably could have taken off my fingers if she’d really wanted to.

          I’d forgotten that Pegasus was a carnivore.

          “Well, what did you expect?” Alice asked me as I sat next to the barricade, clutching my bloody hand to my chest. She pulled it away from me and looked at it. “Tear off a strip from your shirt and bandage it,” she said, dropping it back in my lap.

          “Can’t you, like, do a spell and heal it up a little for me?” I asked her.

          “Like I did for Lady Peace? I don’t think either of us wants me to try that.”

          “Well, we’re right next to a hospital—Tearing my shirt apart is our solution?”

          “Do what you want. I’m not your nurse. I’m going to talk to Michael.”

          Yes, Michael. The guy who’d rode in on Pegasus, circled the monster, and landed in front of us. The guy who was not Bellerophon. I’d never seen him before, but Alice seemed to know who he was which meant that Pegasus had not, apparently, been hijacked.

          Alice joined the huddle formed by Derek and Michael. They’d all seemed to have forgotten the monster, who seemed stuck, somehow, between buildings. Its tendrils were still swatting lazily at helicopters, but it made no moves toward us. Ripping a couple of strips of fabric from my shirt (so not getting my deposit back), I stood up and went to stand with the other three, acting like I belonged there while I bandaged my hand.

          A half-dozen armed, body-armored XDF agents surrounded us. It felt weird to be flanked like that. I couldn’t decide if they were protecting us or protecting the world from us. Had to be the first, I knew, still … the way they looked at us.

          Michael made no apology to me for his horse’s behavior as we locked eyes for the first time and he gave me a little nod of acknowledgment.

          “Michael, Wes … Wes, Michael,” Derek said, as if he were already bored.

          I returned Michael’s nod as Derek continued. There wasn’t much remarkable about him. He was just a tall, dark-haired guy in his thirties. Dressed like any other shlub in khakis and an untucked white shirt. “Michael works with Jennifer Becket at NCU, and he lives with…” he stopped himself from giving me Bellerophon’s real name. Nice time to find his sense of discretion. “He lives with Bellerophon.”

          Michael stuck out his hand, saw how I was clutching mine, and then pulled back.

          “Peg showed up at our house about an hour ago. Peter … well, I haven’t seen Peter since this afternoon when I left to go teach my classes. When Peg returned alone, I knew something had happened. What’s going on, Derek?”

          “Peg brought you here to this thing?” Alice asked.

          Michael nodded.

          “We can’t find any of them,” Derek replied. “Well, not true, actually …”

          “Gail?” Michael asked. “Is she…?”

          Derek gave a sad shrug. “Her condition is in flux right now. Alice may have saved her life, but we don’t know.”

          Derek filled Michael in on the rest of it: the battle we’d witnessed, and the Spectros-thralls that had risen at the site of the hospital blast.

          Pegasus whinnied and his face was suddenly at Derek’s shoulder. Michael reached up to stroke the horse’s mane, and said, “Whatever’s happened, Peg survived it. So that has to mean something.”

          “I don’t suppose this horse talks, does it?” I said. “Because otherwise, I don’t know how this is exactly helpful.”

          The XDF agents shouted something to Derek and the monster took a long sudden lurch toward us.

          Pegasus danced on his graceful white feet, forming a wall in front of us. Michael did the same, stepping to the side to help shelter Alice and me, until Derek forced his way through to do that job himself. I looked up at the beast, framing the shot even though I didn’t have the cheap little camera in my hand. It hung around my neck, but it would have hurt too much to use it.

          Yes,  I am that much of a wimp.

          The creature leaned in toward us and I thought that I was about to live that old horror movie cliché of inhaling the monster’s hot, rotten breath and looking up into its teeth just before it devoured me. But this thing … it had two huge, stomping legs, like those of a giant elephant, but no real mouth to speak of, and within the locus of those tentacles erupting from its midsection—some tentacles spreading and branching out into their own network of tentacles—was threaded a necklace of gently spinning purple and white lights.

          Alice saw what I was seeing. “Oh my God,” she said. “Someone incarnated a lower rhealms nexus?”

          “What?” I asked.

          “I think you’re right,” Michael replied.

          The side of the spire rippled as the monster moved past it, and the building directly across the street from us flowed out of existence and then back in as if it was being dissolved in and the reassembled from rainwater.

          “Assume we need an explanation,” Derek said. “And use small words so kid Callahan here can understand.”

          I wanted the the same thing, so I didn’t even protest Derek’s gross, slanderous, mischaracterization of my intelligence.

          Alice had dropped to her knees and had the texts spread out on the asphalt behind us. And instant later, Michael was on the ground at her side, helping her. He looked up at Derek and me. “You know there are al sorts of portals, gateways, etc. into this world, through it, and connecting us to the higher and lower rhealms…”

          He’d lost me already, but Derek was nodding in apparent understanding, so I nodded too.

          “Someone called one of them and put legs on it – and something’s coming through… lots of somethings at the same time, the way it looks. Right, Alice?”

          “I think so,” she said. “If Jenn were here, she could work up a binding, maybe even close it off.”

          “But she’s not,” Derek said. “So do what you can, ok?”

          She nodded, but she was focused on the books. “I may need to go back to the shop. I didn’t bring the Worke of Boundary.”

          She looked up at Michael, as if to apologize for something. “I only brought the things I’d been using to work on healing spells. That’s what she had me working on. I didn’t think to—“

          “Alice, it’s ok,” Michael said. He stood up. “Don’t apologize for not anticipating this.”

          As it passed directly over us, I could see what it was that Alice meant. It wasn’t one massively tentacled creature, it was a collection of massively tentacled creatures spilling through a gateway and getting stuck there in one of the thousands of little light-formed holes in the worl. Creatures from the lower rhealms.

          Whatever that meant.

          Someone put legs on a gateway. It would have been funny if it didn’t also look like it could end the world.

          “So, what do we do about it now?” Derek asked.

          “I’m not sure there’s much we can do,” Alice said. “Unless Michael has anything …”

          “Fresh out of portal keys,” he said.

          “So, it’s just randomly stomping around the city?” I asked. “It’s not, like, looking for its kids or its mate or anything?”

          Alice looked up at me sharply, and for a second I was sure I was about to hear one more time about how stupid I was. Imagine my surprise when she said, “That … that may be something, actually. That may even be brilliant.”


          “It’s mate. Well, it’s not like it’s intelligent, or even a singular entity with a consciousness, even. But if we make another portal of the opposite polarity we might be able to suck this one through. Or at least, maybe, get them to cancel each other out.”

          “And you know how to do this?” Derek asked.

          “Um. Not exactly. But I may be able to figure it out. “ She dropped to pore over the books again. “Ijust … I just did something a little bit like this.” She pulled out the book she’d been working with back in Lady Peace’s room.

          “Is this going to get us rained upon by those bony little monkey-demons again?” Derek asked.

          Alice met his panicked gaze. “Let’s hope not. But it’s the same spell I already have ready, which means …”

          “What are you thinking?” Michael asked her. They worked together like people who’d had a long relationship, which made sense, I guess, if he was her mentor’s colleague.

          “I can just reverse it – send the energy out instead of in. If I can do it in the right spot I might be able to fuse the two portals together. Maybe.”

          The building across the street fell, pushed over by the scrambling creatures. Even more alarming, a few of them looked like they’d almost worked themselves through. I didn’t know much –or anything, really—about these things, but I was pretty sure we didn’t want that to happen.

          “Alice! What do you need to make this work?” Derek shouted at her.

          “I don’t … I don’t know.” The ferocity with which she tore through the ancient text threatened to break apart its binding. “Time!” She said.

          “That’s what I was afraid you were going to say.”

          “Just … just shut up!” She stood, staring down at the book spread at her feet. “Stand back!” Michael stood at her side, Pegasus shifting behind him as if he understood what was happening better than I did (which was probably true).  Derek grabbed me by the shoulder and signaled his men to move off as the giant legs lurched toward us again.

          I really hoped they’d gotten everyone out of county hospital.

          I couldn’t hear what Alice was shouting, but that sliver appeared in the world again, the cracked space effect I recognized from when Alice had performed the spell for Lady Peace.

          There is no way I could have gotten a shot of what happened next with the disposable camera  I had with me. I would have needed my special filter to capture the light that poured out of the crack in space appearing in the air above us, splitting what passed for reality. For a moment everything white glowed purple again, as if lit by black light, and then Alice said something or did something, or made some gesture I did not catch because I wasn’t looking that way, and the light –if this is even possible, I dropped out of the beginning level physics class I took my second and final year at NCU—seemed for a second to hang there, unmoving, then be sucked into the new gateway Alice had created.

          Of course, the light vanished, becoming a sudden void of negative space, a sucking wound in the world. This spot-not-spot drifted away from us, toward the gateway beast. The thing made no noise, neither of the gateways did, since the void seemed to be sucking in sound waves as well as light. Alice was just standing there with her eyes closed, not waving her arms around the way magicians did in those cheesy sci-fi channel fantasy movies.

 I have to admit, that was a bit of a disappointment.

The creature went all smeary, there’s no other way to describe it. It leaned into the void Alice had summoned, then its image broke up as if it had been wiped upon by the saliva-coated finger of God’s two-year-old. Some weird pulse went through me and every part of me (yes, my hand too, thanks for asking) throbbed painfully. Alice cursed something as the tentacled part of the creature vanished, sucked into the void.

The legs fell, severed from the mass above them, shattering the windows and crushing the police cruisers making up the barricade.  Grey skin rippled and then collapsed, the tops of them oozing a stinking black goo.

Alice dropped to her knees and rubbed at her temples. Michael was still standing behind her, a shocked grin on his face. Derek and I exchanged WTF looks before Derek went to Alice and said, “Good work. I guess. Would be appropriate here?”

“You think?” She said.  “I can’t believe that worked.”

“What exactly happened?” Derek asked. “Let’s just pretend that I really want to know.”

“I was right … my gateway sucked the monster through and then their energies canceled each other out. I was lucky that I already had the spell prepared, otherwise there’s no way I could have done that on my own.”

“Thank you,” Derek said.

“If Jenn were here…”

“She’d be proud of you,” Michael said, and Alice gave him a rueful grin.

“She’d be more proud if I could actually find her.”

I looked up at the sky, at the place where the rock, I assumed, still hung among the clouds. It was no longer visible against the sky, no longer exposed by battle-flashes, so I couldn’t tell if it was really there at all anymore. What had happened up there? And how did it relate to what was happening down here?

Alice tried to stand up, but halfway through the motion exhaustion took her and she started to fall. Michael caught her, and for the first time I noticed how her face was slicked with sweat. The moisture caught the red and blue cast by the police lights all around us (a few less now that so many of them had been crushed by the portal’s legs).

Derek left us to confer with his men. I wondered if the night would calm down now, and allow us to concentrate fully on the search. Suddenly feeling my own exhaustion, I went to Alice’s side and sat down. She looked over at me, wiped the wet hair out of her eyes, and said, “Thanks for giving me the idea.”

“I’d say you’re welcome because I’d love the credit, but I was really just trying to channel everything I’d seen in all of those Japanese monster movies. You know: its babies. Mate. Mortal Enemy. Nuclear power plant.”

“Whatever,” she said. But she smiled.

Michael was standing above us, soothing Pegasus, who obviously wanted to move on to the next thing now that the monster was defeated.

“What about him?” I asked, pointing warily to the horse. “He was probably there at whatever happened. You have a spell or something that will let us communicate with  him so he can tell us?”

“There are books I can look at, but right now that’s way beyond me.”

From out of the chaos around us, a perfect sphere or light drifted. It came toward us, rose, and then spiraled above Alice’s head. She reached up to take hold of it, and the energy flowed into her hand and then was gone.

Her eyes widened and flashed purple. Using my shoulder as a support, she pushed herself up to her feet.

“Derek!” She called out. “My tracking spell came back! I think I know where they are …”