Silver Linings 1 (Part 5)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
by Bek D Corbin
As the bizarre man sneered, “No matter how hard you TRY!” three of the doors burst open, and more of the flayed men boiled in, accompanied by more normal men in black body armor with red trim, carrying very serious-looking assault rifles.
The vice-principal, wearing a ‘Hogwarts Teacher Robes’ costume, stepped forward, blustering, “What’s the meaning of this? Get out, there are children here!”
“That’s the whole IDEA, schmuck!” the guy in black armor snarled as he strode out of the circle. He whipped the mace into the vice-principal’s midsection, knocking the wind out of him, and smashed the man to the floor with his gauntlet, which was glowing with an evil energy. Setting his foot on the vice-principal’s neck, he held up his glowing left hand and shouted, “I AM DARK CLAW! I could KILL everyone in this room all by myself without raising a sweat! But you’re more useful to me alive than dead, so if you back off and do as you’re told, you might just live to tell about this!”
One of the ‘Captain Patriots’ stepped forward, saying, “Hey, what the FUCK is your-” he didn’t get to finish. Dark Claw ripped into him as viciously as he had the vice-principal. There was some fighting as some of ‘Captain Patriot’s’ buddies tried to help him. None of Dark Claw’s henchmen did anything to help him, but it didn’t look like he needed any help.
Spotting an opening, Stacy and Lauren ducked behind the punch table. Stacy pulled out her cell phone and started scrolling. “Not here!” Lauren whispered. “They could start looking for us any time now!”
“Right!” Stacy took one of the spare tablecloths that was folded up next to the punch table and unfolded it. “I can use my invisibility to make this tablecloth and us invisible. If we’re careful, we should be able to get to the cloak room.”
“It works!” And indeed, forming a wedge with it, Stacy and Lauren were able to hold up the tablecloth and walk from the punch table to the cloak room unseen, despite the fact that at least one of the armored thugs looked right at them during a sweep.
Once they were safe (comparatively) in the cloak room, Stacy opened her phone and started scrolling to the emergency number that Karen had given her. “Text her,” Lauren whispered as she started rummaging through the clothing hung on the racks. “Don’t wanna risk them hearing us.”
“What are you doing?” Stacy hissed as she pushed the Send button.
“Looking for those stupid ‘Silver Ghost’ costumes that Jennilee made those other girls get out of.”
“WHY? I’m not going to do any superheroing! Those guys have GUNS! They can’t hurt me with them, but they could kill one of those kids if they got hit with a stray round!”
“Look, you’re here,” Lauren said fixing Stacy’s gaze sternly. “Odds are, you’re going to have to do something. Maybe not go in there and kick those bastards’ asses, but something. And you can’t do that, dressed as Xena.”
Stacy opened her mouth to object, but couldn’t find a real argument. She was inside the building; Karen would want first-hand information. She’d probably use her invisibility to get that information. Having her cloak (or at least A cloak) would make sneaking around invisibly easier. And one of the big problems with being invisible is that people trip over you by accident. And if she had to go visible, it would be best if she wasn’t dressed as Xena, Warrior Princess, but as something that people would associate with the Silver Ghost. She started stripping out of her Xena costume and removed the dark wig that she was wearing. Standing there in only her undies, she checked her cell phone. Karen wasn’t answering. She hit the emergency button again. Then she heard Lauren cuss. “What’s the matter?”
“I can’t find those stupid Silver Ghost outfits!”
“They’re not here!”
“What? Spense said that there at least two girls that Jennilee sent back to the cloak room!”
“They’re still not here!” Lauren scrambled through the clothes and brought out the Supergirl costume. “Put this on!”
“It’s SOMETHING! And it’s got a cape!” As Stacy got into the Supergirl costume, Lauren got out of her Batgirl outfit. “What are you doing?”
“If the Silver Ghost shows up, nobody’s gonna ask where I went, if I’m not accounted for. But they might ask where the mysterious ‘Xena’ chick got to.” At the last, Stacy decided that putting the blonde Supergirl wig on would be faster and easier than letting her own blonde hair out of the net and pins arrangement- and quicker to change back to the Xena outfit, if that was called for. And in a fit of nerves, she added a red domino mask to the ensemble.
Lauren had just fixed her ‘Xena’ wig with some hair pins, when one of the armored thugs got around to checking the cloak room. Stacy went invisible, and Lauren tried to hide in among the coats and spares. But the armored thug spotted her duck into the clothes and dragged her out of the cloak room. Not bothering to shock her, the armored thug dragged Lauren back to the main room and threw her in with a bunch of other girls. And Spenser too, who was standing there, pale as a sheet, and really not wanting to complicate a nasty situation by informing those assholes that he was really a boy.
Dark Claw had the teachers and the boys off in one group. A few of the teachers and boys looked a lot worse for the wear; Dark Claw probably felt that he had to prove something to them all by beating up as many of the ‘alpha males’ as he could. But now the creepy guy with the top hat was calling out the names of first and second graders from a prepared list, and he used the pictures that they’d taken as the kids first entered the party to confirm that he’d gotten the right kids.
As he did this, the armored thugs were patting down everyone, looking for cell phones, pagers, PDAs and other electronic devices. And wallets, watches and jewelry, though Stacy got the impression that was just thugs taking advantage of the situation.
When he finished, he had about 120 out of the 180 kids from the three schools attending. Then he pointed to the huddled group of girls and picked out thirty of them, Lauren, Spenser, Abby, and Hayley included. “YOU are coming with us. Yer gonna ride herd on these little snots. Pick four, and stick with ‘em. If they try to pull anything, anything at fucking ALL, and I’ll take it out of your hides. I need them alive, but I ain’t getting shit for any of you prissy little bitches. You keep ‘em quiet, you get to live. Any problems with that, ladies?” he finished with a gout of energy coming from his gauntleted left hand. The girls all shook their heads. “GOOD.”
By this time, the armored thugs had patted down everyone, and they piled all the cell phones and other electronics in the circle. Dark Claw pointed his gauntlet at the pile of electronics and projected a jet of sulfurous smelling flame, almost instantly melting down all the phones. “My Blackberry!” someone groaned.
Then the armored thugs chained the doors shut, and Dark Claw ordered the hostages to leave through the door to the rear exit of the building. Stacy floated invisibly over the group of whimpering kids. From behind, she heard Dark Claw tell those who remained, “You call anyone, anyone at ALL, and they die. Cops, superheroes, FBI, insurance companies, it don’t matter. You rat us out, those kids DIE. When their folks come for them, tell them the same thing. And tell them to expect a call from me. I got their numbers.”
Then the cell phone in her hand beeped, and Stacy was barely able to switch over to vibrate before anyone noticed over the sounds of the kids. [GrWit: STACY, WHAT’S WRONG?] Stacy and Karen bounced back and forth, Stacy trying to convince Karen that the Halloween party had been hijacked.
As Stacy was furiously texting away, the armored thugs, the flayed men, and the terror dogs herded the first graders and their high school minders onto three yellow school buses. For speed’s sake, they herded them on from both the front and rear doors, in groups of five, with each minder and her four kids taking a row of seats, the minder on the row, where she could keep an eye on all four of them. Stacy crawled invisibly into the bus over the top of the rear door, and floated against the roof of the bus. She texted this development to Karen. Then it occurred to her that she was invisible, and her cell phone was invisible. So, how could she see it to text? She puzzled over that for a moment, and then decided that she had more important things to worry about right at the moment. One of the armored thugs was driving the bus, and neither Dark Claw nor the top hat creep, or any of the flayed men or terror dogs were on that bus. So, they had three men in the aisles, keeping an eye on all the kids, with one at the rear door. Stacy’s mind thing wasn’t very good while she was invisible, but she had a real sense that the armored thugs were digging on the fact that they were pushing these rich kids around.
Stacy kept texting Karen as the buses drove through the lowering darkness. The buses took the side streets, and maybe ten miles later, they stopped. The kids all crammed their noses against the windows. “Cavalry Episcopal Community Church,” one of the kids read.
“That’s CALVARY, dorkwad!” one of his classmates snapped back.
“So? It says that they’re having a Halloween party!”
“It’s a GOOF!” one of the kids said with a gush of relief. “They’re punking us! It’s a Halloween prank! This is where the real Halloween party is! I KNEW that Dork Claw doofus was too corny to be real!”
The girls all looked at each other over the heads of their charges, and silently debated whether to tell them that it wasn’t a prank. Stacy texted this message to Karen. Karen’s reply was, [GrWit: CALVARY EPISCOPAL CC WAS SHUT DOWN YEARS AGO* IT’S PROBABLY BEEN DESECRATED SINCE THEN* THIS IS SO NO ONE GETS CURIOUS WHY THE BUSES ARE THERE* STAY ON GUARD* TEXT ME EVERYTHING YOU SEE OR HEAR]
The kids laughed at the pathetic ‘scary’ figures of witches, Universal Movies monsters, ghosts and like that which were scattered around the grounds of the church. They were actually eager to get into the church and see what the old folks had cooked up. This was so MUCH cooler than the fake old ‘wizard’s chamber’ back at the high school! Fortunately, the armored thugs had them get off in the same ranks of five, so the minders managed to keep the munchkins from pouring out of the bus in a stampede. Stacy tried to slip in through the top of door as she had with the bus, but noticed a brand-new alarm of some sort wired into it. She dropped to the ground and managed to walk through right after one of the armored thugs, dreading what would happen if he backed up suddenly.
The Calvary Episcopal CC was a Pre-War clapboard structure that had been stripped of most of its furnishings, leaving the main worship area a ratty cavernous open space. The stained glass windows had been boarded up on the outside, but the boards had been torn down in the inside, revealing the sacred images, which had been defaced. Mystic sigils painted in tar desecrated the shabby white walls. What had probably been the church’s main altar cross had been torn down and put back, upside down. There were several electrical generators going, several islands of high technology going surrounding a large mystical looking circle with glyphs and marks that looked a lot more real than the ‘mystic circle’ back at Mansfield, what looked like a camera setup, a large earthenware barrel of some sort with an alligator lid, and, oddly enough, three large and very mean looking dogs in wire cages.
One boy dressed as Champion looked around and asked, “Where’s the FOOD?”
A tall, lithe man in a red leather devil outfit walked up and said, “There’s no food, no music, no games, and if you’re not careful, the only treats will be you little snots on spits. This isn’t a party, so keep quiet and do as you’re told.”
The little ‘Champion’ made a dismissive noise, and said, “Yeah, RIGHT!”
The red devil grabbed ‘Little Champion’ by the shirt and lifted him up off his feet. “I’m Jack Devil,” he grinned evilly. “I’m that nasty man your mother always warned you about.” He then gave ‘Little Champion’ three wide, stinging slaps across the face that would have rattled a full-grown man, let alone a 7-year-old little boy. ‘Little Champion’ gave a yelp of pain, surprise and horror. Jack dismissively threw him back down among his cowed friends. Then Jack cupped his hand, and a flaming trident appeared in it. He pointed the pitchfork at ‘Little Champion’, and asked, “Is he high on the list, Major? Can we afford to make a lesson of him?”
Stacy, who was hovering invisibly among the rafters, was about to drop and do something, when her cell phone vibrated. She looked at the textbox, which said, [GrWit: DON’T DO ANYTHING STACY* LET THEM START WHATEVER THEY’RE UP TO] How had she known? [JUST TELL ME HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE THERE, WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE, WHAT THEY’RE DOING, AND ANYTHING THEY SAY] ‘Just’? What’s so ‘just’ about all that?
Then a silky female voice with one of those European accents where you can’t really peg where they’re from called out, “Now, now, that’s not necessary, Jack!” A tall, slender woman in black robes with some kind of veil over her face walked out into the room, followed by a big strapping guy in a red jacket and some more guys in body armor (red this time, holding more pitchforks). “Waste not, want not, no? Besides, it’s not like we can send Dark Claw to the corner store for more, now is it?”
“As you say, Lady Jettatura.”
LADY JETTATURA? Stacy’s blood went cold at the name. She floated down from the rafters to get a better angle, disabled the flash on her cell phone’s video camera, and started taking pictures. As she sent the picture of Lady Jettatura to Karen, Stacy kicked herself. She took pictures of the entire setup, the piles of technology, the other players, and like all that, and sent them to Karen.
“Still… Dark Claw?” Lady Jettatura turned over the proceedings to the asshole in black armor.
“Bring out the coffin!” Dark Claw barked. The guys in red armor looked at the guy in the red jacket, who nodded. They brought out a long, coffin-like box that was secured by four chains. They unlocked the chains and opened the box. Inside the box was a near-mummified body in a tattered jumpsuit, with a breathing mask over its mouth. The ‘mummy’ blinked and opened its eyes. It rose partially from the box and rasped, “Please… please… kill me…”
A sadistic gloat in his voice, Dark Claw addressed the assembled grade school kids. “We call this lovely lady ‘ROT’. Y’wanna see WHY?” Without waiting for an answer, he strode over to the one of the cages, where a large mastiff was snarling and barking. He opened the cage, reached in, and ignoring the mastiff’s bites, hauled the dog out of the cage as though it was a puppy. With one hand, he threw the dog at ‘Rot’. Rot reflexively caught the dog, and the mastiff gave out a shocked yelp. It kept yelping as its flesh visibly decayed and rotted off its furiously struggling body. Before the children’s stunned gaze, the dog was reduced to a pile of disgusting oozing corruption and cracked bones. Somehow the ‘mummy’ seemed more solid, fleshier, though no less rot-ridden. “Now, let’s get this straight. You’re gonna send your parents a little message. You’re gonna look into the camera and read what’s on the card. You little pukes CAN read, can’t you? ‘Cause, if you DON’T!” he went to the next cage, dragged out a whimpering and cowering mutt, and threw it to Rot. The second dog fared no better than the first. Rot was now at least visibly female, with a few strands of bedraggled hair on her hands and a semblance of a living face. “Now, Rot here is real hungry. She needs to eat something. Something ALIVE. Now, I got a third dog. I can feed her that- or… I can feed her any one of you little shits that gives me so much as a second’s guff. So? AM I GONNA HAVE ANY PROBLEMS WITH YOU?”
The grade schoolers all shook their heads, faces pale, eyes wide and many glistening with tears.The minders tried to comfort the little ones as best they could, and tried to hide the fact that they were scared witless as well.
“NO!” Rot rasped out, now apparently having enough flesh in her mouth to enunciate more clearly. “No more! Just KILL me and END it already!” She lurched away from the box towards Dark Claw. The red thugs stayed prudently well away from her.
“Get back in your box, Bitch!” Dark Claw yelled. She kept coming at him, so he stepped up and swung his mace at her. She caught the mace with her hand, and in a second, it was reduced to a rusted hulk that fell apart in Dark Claw’s hand. However, whatever she did to the mace and the dogs didn’t seem to affect Dark Claw. He backhanded Rot, sending her to the floor.
“Please…” Rot pleaded, “Just KILL me and get it OVER with!”
“Now, now,” Lady Jettatura chided as she walked over. “Why would we do that?” Rot gathered herself and was about to strike at Lady Jettatura, when the lady tisked and said, “Kill me, and there is no way to end the curse. You will live forever as a festering canker on the face of the world, eternally rotting but never quite dying, laying waste to whatever you touch.”
“Pleeeaaasseee…” Rot begged.
“You should have thought of that before you crossed me,” Lady Jettatura snapped. Then she turned and said in her usual polished way, “Dr. Strega, if you’d be so kind as to start Dark Claw off?”
Reeling in disgust, Stacy sent photo after photo of the Rot woman to Karen.
A scrawny looking woman in an armored black jumpsuit with lots of pockets and gear loops, sort of like she wasn’t quite sure whether she was going for the ‘high-tech grease monkey’ look or the ‘Baroness from G.I. Joe’ look, walked over peevishly from a high-tech equipment platform and started working with the video camera. Dark Claw stood in front of the assembled kids with a couple of his armored thugs standing there, holding their guns like they’re supposed to be impressive, and copped a pose. “Is this good?” he asked.
“Do you want your men in the shot?”
“Ah, yeah. At the very edges. Can you make it look like I got lots of guys?”
The camera lady moved the thugs around to make look like there were more, just off camera. “Very well, Dark Claw, you’re good. Remember, keep it short and to the point. We’ll be tacking this in front of every clip from each kid, so we don’t want to risk their parents’ cell phone rejecting it because it’s too long. Ready?”
“Aaannddd… three… two… one… GO!”
“Concerned parent!” Dark Claw read off a cue card held by Dr. Strega. “Your child is one of those kidnapped from the Mansfield Halloween party this evening! You see my hostages behind me! *I* am Dark Claw! I have no quarrel with you! Yet! You have three hours to pay One Hundred Thousand dollars. If you pay on time, your child will be released unharmed. If you are so much as ONE SECOND LATE-” he picked up the last dog and threw it to Rot. Dr. Strega turned the camera to capture the dog decaying in Rot’s grasp. “I accept eSwag©, HostagePal ©, iPayoff ©, and PayRansom©. The account numbers are being sent to your cell phone. If you call the police, any superhero or any other agency, or if you do anything OTHER than pay immediately, your child and all these other children WILL DIE! This is NOT open to negotiation! You have THREE HOURS! The clock Is ticking!” He finished with shaking his fist, glowing with wicked energy, at the camera.
“Was that good? I can do it again, if we need to.”
“It will do.”
“Cool.” Dark Claw picked up a cue card, carried it over to the assembled children, and showed it to them. “Okay! We’re gonna call you one at a time, alphabetically. You’re gonna stand in front of this screen,” he pointed at a red screen with a black ‘Dark Claw’ logo silkscreened onto it, “and read THIS MESSAGE to yer parents. You will ONLY say what is on THIS CARD. Got that?” They all nodded vigorously. “Good!” He then went over what the card said, and asked if any of them couldn’t read what was on the card. He had them all repeat what was on the card three times. Then, when they could all say it right, he started with Barbara Abrams. Little Barbie was dragged in front of the black screen, and choking on her tears of terror, she reeled off the message that she was alive and well, but she’d only stay alive if they paid the money. Her clip was tacked onto the back of Dark Claw’s clip and sent as a video clip to all the numbers on her emergency contact list. Then Bart Ackerly was next in line.
After the children were led out of the church’s main area into the baptismal area by one of Major Terror’s legionnaires, they were returned ten minutes later. One of Dark Claw’s flunkies sidled up to him and said, “Yo, Stone. What’re they doin’ to the kids in there?”
“I dunno. I don’t care. And it’s Dark Claw now.”
“Hey, Stone, there are, like over a hundred kids! Even if each of those messages only takes, like, one or two minutes, it’s still gonna take fukkin’ HOURS!”
“Yeah, I know,” Dark Claw grated.
“If it takes that long, SOMEONE’S gonna find us! I don’t know HOW, but you know superheroes! Somehow, they ALWAYS find these things!”
Dark Claw turned and glared at his flunky. “Edge, that’s why these people hired us in the FIRST PLACE.”
For the next hour and a half, as the little ones were being ‘processed’, the creepy stick-man, ‘Dr. Tennybrass’, or something like that, ‘amused’ the kids. He pulled spiders out of their pants, or made snakes slither up their legs, or showered them with broken glass, or pulled nasty barking dogs out of nowhere. Well, at least, Dr. Tenebros was amused by it all. Every time he shoved one of the kids’ worst fears in their face, Tenebros filled the church with his annoying high-pitched ‘nails on a blackboard’ giggling. He started off small, but after an hour and a half of this, he was pulling full-grown monsters out of his sleeve.
Stacy wanted to hurt him. Badly. But she’d been told to keep hidden. And if Lady Jettatura was as powerful and nasty as Karen had implied, then Stacy wanted to stay out of her way as much as she could.
Some of the kids were crying pretty steadily by this time. Finally, Spenser snapped as Tenebros reached for one of the boys under his care. “Oh will you STOP it already, you SICKO? We’re doing what you WANT, so why are you PICKING on them?”
“Because I CAN,” Tenebros replied in a rich, sardonically amused drawl. His eyes glittered as he fixed on Spenser. “But then, maybe you’re right… Picking on little children is too easy… But tell me, Cindy… What are YOU afraid of? Broken glass slippers?” He produced a fistful of glass shards and threw it in Spense’s face. “Rats?” A swarm of filthy disgusting rats swarmed over his shoulders and down his arms, made no cuter by the tattered ‘Disney’ clothing they wore. “The idea that your prince will never come?” Suddenly, Spense was wrapped up in chains, his hands shackled in front of him. “Tell me, Sweetie… what are you REALLY afraid of?”
Stacy knew from her brief encounter with Spense (and her own experience in the matter) that his worst nightmare would be to be exposed as a cross-dresser or transsexual, or whatever he was, in front of all those kids. That could get real ugly, real quickly, and escalate into something that could get people killed. Tenebros was tripping on all the fear, and Stacy was wondering why Lady Jettatura was letting him get away with it.
Come to think of it, why was Lady Jettatura doing this in the first place? From what Karen had told Stacy, kidnapping for money was beneath someone at Lady Jettatura’s level.
Tenebros’ power must have missed its mark, because he made the chains turn into a mass of snakes that coiled and writhed around Spense. Stacy couldn’t take it anymore, and she started to come down, and get this horror show over with.
“You can stop dicking around, Tenebros,” Dr. Strega snarled from her workstation, which stopped Stacy from doing anything rash. “My constructs have just spotted SWAT teams advancing upon the church in standard SAS formations.”
“Exxxcelleent…” Lady Jettatura purred with relish. “Do handle them, Dr. Strega. As for the rest of you?” She clapped her hands imperiously. The goons all gathered around her as she waved her hands and tendrils of darkness floated out from her, touching each one of them. “There. You have received my Dark Blessing. Use it well. Now, everyone, to their places! Dark Claw… you and your men continue. You know what to do.”
Outside the church, the SWAT elements were approaching the building through the overgrown grass, trying to use the weeds and Halloween decorations as cover, as per SOP. Unfortunately, the problem with Standard Operating Procedure is that it’s standard, and so it’s predictable. The elements were advancing, covering each other, with the hindmost element keeping an eye for any sign that they’d been uncovered, before advancing to the front position. SOP was to go in through an unobserved entrance, but a preliminary check showed that the rectory doors were still boarded up shut. They would clear a path for the Power Suit Squad, and only throw in the flash-bangs when the PSS was halfway across the yard, so the suits would enter the second that the blast had cleared. Because so many minors were involved, the local superheroes were on site, but they’d agreed only to get involved if SWAT or the PSS couldn’t handle it. The front element was to scale the wall up to the main stained glass window and acquire fire over-watch before the PS squad would begin their charge. Then they all got a message over their links. [Sorry, guys, but inside watch says you’re rumbled. Expect something, but make it look good. Disengage as soon as it’s sprung and withdraw to safety.]
The advance sniper was trying to figure out how to handle that order, when the Halloween gargoyle that had been attached to the bottom of the windowsill suddenly came to life and started to grapple him. The other SWAT elements, who had been using the ‘decorative figures’ as covers, found their cover literally turning on them. The scarecrows, werewolves, ghosts, vampires and other ghouls - which had been checked for sensors and alarms - sprang to life and began to maul the SWAT officers. Fortunately, the figures weren’t very good hand-to-hand combatants; unfortunately, they seemed to be very resistant to damage. “PLAN B!” someone shouted. Struggling free of the ‘ghost’ that was grappling him for a second, one of the SWAT officers chucked a flash-bang grenade at the door.
From where Stacy was, up in the rafters, she saw the door open with a loud BANG! Dark Claw’s men trained their guns on the door. Dark Claw himself was warming up a blast with his gauntlet. Dr. Strega was working furiously at her station. But all the others had hidden themselves in various places around the church. Stacy texted that to Karen, but didn’t get any response.
Then the Golden Knight came busting through the big main stained glass window, a gleaming icon of righteousness shining in the gloom. He hovered there for a second, just long for all the goons to recover enough to turn and start firing up at him. As soon as they started firing, Blue Streak came zipping through the door, bowling over many of the goons in the process. But the goons didn’t stay down; they just popped right up again, which struck Stacy as kind of odd. Then, as the goons were getting up and wrapping their heads around the fact that Blue Streak was among them, more windows broke, and Violet and the Green Witch flew through, laying down some suppressing fire from above. The goons tried to keep track of who was where, which was made even harder as Captain Patriot and Red Thunder came charging in the door that Blue Streak had zipped in through. As Cap, Red and the Knight laid into the goons, Violet and the Green Witch each touched down between the goons and one of the two groups of kids, and created protective barriers to shield them. Then Azure and Tawny jumped up into the windows, but stayed there, watching in case someone pulled something.
This, of course, only meant that when it came, they were the ones who got it first.
Major Terror and Jack Devil popped out of their hiding places. Major Terror sent a bolt of hellfire at Azure, which really seemed to hurt her; she screamed and dropped from the window. Jack Devil aimed his pitchfork at Tawny at exactly the same time, but he sent a thick black cloud of revolting choking sulfurous smoke at her. Tawny tried to hold off as long as she could, but the stench overcame her; having a very sensitive sense of smell can be as much of a weakness as a power.
The Red Troopers came bustling out of their cover and started beating on the two women, the ones on Azure with bursts of flame from their pitchforks, the ones on Tawny with the pitchforks themselves. Blue Streak recovered and sent the Red Troopers bowling with a move-by strike. But Captain Patriot yelled, “Stick to the plan! Get the kids out!” as he launched himself at Major Terror. Blue Streak turned and headed for the group of children that the Green Witch was protecting.
But as he headed that way, Jack Devil disappeared in a puff of smoke, then reappeared *fwoosh!* behind the Green Witch. He gave the Witch another jet of blinding, choking smoke, and finished with a double-handed bat upside the head with his pitchfork. The Streak charged at him, but Jack was gone in another puff of smoke, reappearing across the room to kick the Golden Knight in the head. This knocked the Knight off balance a bit, which he lost even worse when he swung at Jack and missed badly as the devil disappeared in another puff of smoke. The Knight was trying to recover as Dark Claw came charging in, his gauntlet glowing red hot with hellish power. Dark Claw laid into the hero, and kept him off balance by pure force of aggression.
Blue Streak paused, not quite sure whether to get as many of the kids to safety as possible, as planned, or to help the Witch get up and be able to provide cover. Then he noticed that there weren’t any guards on this group of children.
And their expressions were strangely blank. No fear, no tears, no surprise, no hope, no nothing. Just blank.
Then, all in a mass, they jumped on him, latching onto whatever they could grab and hold. Now, Blue Streak wasn’t just capable of moving at over 250 mph at a charge; he was a pretty tough and capable guy, all around. He could lift a shade over 1000 pounds and shrug off a concussion grenade exploding three feet away. But the average 7-year-old weighs a bit more than 50 pounds, and there were at least forty of them all dog-piling onto him. Even if he were willing to risk harming them- and he wasn’t- they simply overwhelmed him and buried him under a mound of their own flesh.
And they never said a word as they did it.
The Green Witch was only just getting her senses back, when Jack Devil popped up in a puff of smoke again, and knocked her off her feet with his pitchfork. “Miss me? Don’t worry,” he jeered, “I REMEMBERED you! See?” a massive length of black chain, with the links formed into figure eights and gold characters set into the black metal, appeared in his hand, as if from nowhere. He wrapped her arms to her side with the chain first, and then her legs, and then he wrapped up her entire body. He finished off with a triple loop of chain around her neck. “There! And this will make that look simply STUNNING!” He secured the chain with a golden segmented snake, looping it through the links and clamping the tail with the jaws in a twist, forming both a lemniscate and an ouroboros. “Perfect! Just the thing!” He said with a fey giggle that ended as a sinister chuckle.
Then Violet tried to mix covering her group of children with a one-handed blast at Jack. Jack simply popped out, taking the Green Witch with him.
Violet tried to track them, but Dr. Strega came out of her hidey hole in her floating platform workstation and pointed what looked like a spotlight at Violet. She turned it on, and it sent some sort of projection that wrapped Violet in a whirling psychedelic multicolor ball of some sort. Vi blasted at it, but it didn’t seem to do any good.
Jack reappeared near where the Terror Legionnaires were still beating on Azure and Tawny, both of whom were starting to fight back. Jack gave Tawny another debilitating jet of brimstone smoke, and the Red goons dogpiled on her as she choked. “Enough of that!” Jack said, pulling the goons off of Tawny. “That’s no way to treat a lady!” He slapped a metallic collar around her neck. “But that IS the way to treat a mangy alley cat. HEH!”
Try as hard as he might, Dark Claw simply couldn’t damage the Golden Knight. His gauntlet would have destroyed a man, but the armor was completely mundane, so the magic of his attack didn’t even affect it. The best that he was doing was keeping one of SPECTRUM’s heavy hitters off balance and not coming to his comrades’ aid. That wasn’t good enough for Lady Jettatura. “Enough of this!” she snapped as she stalked out of her hiding place. She casually waved her hand at Red Thunder, wrapping him up in a mirrored sphere that resisted him. “ROT! COME!”
She looked peevishly at one long box. “I said, ‘ROT! COME!’” She prowled over to the box and hammered on the lid. “ROT! Come out here and DO WHAT YOU’RE TOLD!” She snarled and yelled at the box, “Come out, or I’ll BURY you in that box and you can spend the rest of eternity gasping for air!”
Rot climbed out of the box and staggered over to where Dark Claw was still mixing it up with the Golden Knight. She poised to strike, but the fight was too quick, too unpredictable. Jack popped up again and shot a jet of brimstone into the Golden Knight’s faceplate, apparently fouling up his sensors. Dark Claw took advantage of this to knock the Golden Knight into Rot. Rot obediently grabbed the Knight, and immediately the sheen on his armor began to tarnish and peel. The quality of his ‘cape’ (actually a combination energy collection panel and flight platform), degraded visibly and his motions became jerky, mechanical and irregular.
As Stacy watched aghast, Captain Patriot was the last member of SPECTRUM standing. He was slugging it out with Major Terror, and had been for a long time. At least by the standards of a superhero fight. It wasn’t a graceful, ballet-like kung-fu fight; it was a big, painful brutal brick fight, with the two big men going toe-to-toe and hitting where it hurt. The rest gathered around them and watched the two go at it for a few minutes. Then Lady Jettatura said impatiently, “Major, are you quite through?” as she crossed her arms and tapped a foot.
“Mind. Your own. Business. Woman!” Major Terror grunted. “I’ve got him right where I want him!” Captain Patriot rebutted that remark with a cross to the jaw.
“This is taking too long!” the Lady said peevishly. “Tenebros, deal with this jingoist fool.”
The creepy lanky guy strolled casually into view, leaned against a pillar and tapped his chin with his eyes rolled toward the ceiling. “What to do, what to do, what to do…” he mused. Then he perked up as an idea hit him. He rolled his hands in front of him, his shoulders hunched and his face screwed up with wicked anticipation. In a goofy, sort of childish voice, he started singing:
the worms crawl out/
the worms play pinochle on your snout.
They eat your eyes/
they eat your nose/
they eat the jelly between your toes.
There’s one little worm that’s not too shy/
crawls in your ear/
and out your eye.
Your guts turn a gassy green
and snot comes out like thick whipped cream.
And when your bones/
they begin to rot/
the worms are there/
but you are not.
Your ears fall off/
your teeth decay/
a rotten way to end the day.
As he sang the Hearse Song, worms appeared from his hands. They grew into a huge ball that suddenly stampeded towards Captain Patriot in a huge, pale, slimy, disgusting wave. The worms grew in size and wrapped themselves around Captain Patriot, almost consuming him. The Captain struggled and thrashed, but that only seemed to make the worms grow stronger, larger and more numerous. Eventually, he disappeared under the revolting mass, which started squirming about, making disgusting slurping noises.
“I could have HANDLED him!” Major Terror raged.
“Of course you could!” Lady Jettatura cooed consolingly, with a pat on his shoulder. “But we don’t have all night. Doctor Strega! We need privacy.” Dr. Strega entered a sequence into her control panel. Outside the church, a transparent dome appeared over the building, as an army of robotic combat drones (that curiously resembled the ‘ED-209’ units from the Robocop movies) rose up from the ground.
“Hold it,” Jack Devil said. “There’s one more unaccounted for. The Silver Ghost.”
“So what?” Major Terror asked dismissively. “I’ve got my Terror Dogs patrolling outside, including one on the roof. If she’s inside the dome, and tries to get in, my dogs will rip her apart.”
“She can turn invisible!” Jack snarled.
“And my dogs can SEE the invisible,” the Major returned amiably.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Lady Jettatura chided. “This is NOT a problem. She held up a handful of black slips of paper with strange markings written on them in bright red paint. “I’ve done my homework.” She said something in a language that Stacy couldn’t understand, and the slips flew from her hand to the doors and windows of the chamber. When they hit the door or window, they ‘exploded’ into very fine spiderweb meshes on the sills, filling the portals without being obvious. “According to those delightful web nerds who insist on analyzing the powers of every known superhero or supervillain - especially when they’re cute young girls - the Silver Ghost is a mutant with some sort of psychokinetic powers. What they refer to in their jargon as a ‘PK supergirl’; theoretically, her psychokinesis creates both her invisibility, by bending light around her, and her trademark ‘silver’ by reflecting the light instead of passing it around her.” Lady Jettatura held up another fan of black slips with red characters. “It is good to know the nature of your enemies; it allows you to get around them, to avoid them, even to neutralize them. Why you can even use their powers against them. If this Silver Ghost manages to come in, whether she is invisible or silvered, these spell slips will seek her out. They will turn her psychokinetic sheath against her, collapse it, and CRUSH her with her own power.”
“What if it isn’t that easy?” Dark Claw sneered. “I spent a lot of the past ten years getting’ bounced around by superheroes who just wouldn’t get with the plan, y’know?”
“Dark Claw, this ‘Silver Ghost’ is a mutant.” Lady Jettatura explained, as if to a small balky child, “Superhero or supervillain, I’ve yet to meet a mutant who didn’t think that her mutant power wasn’t the sovereign solution for all problems. Their solution for everything is to hit it with their power. If they can’t smash it with their power, their solution is to hit it harder - with their power.”
Hearing that up in the rafters, Stacy wasn’t entirely sure whether Lady Jettatura knew that she was up there or not. This had started out bad, and it was getting worse by the second. Stacy didn’t know why the SPECTRUM heroes hadn’t used her information better, but if she didn’t do something, she knew that they were ALL royally screwed. She knew that she had to think of something.
“Well, the kiddie portion of our party is over,” Lady Jettatura said lightly. “Now, to the real fun. Bring her.” Dark Claw picked up the Green Witch, chains and all, wriggling and cussing, and hauled her over to where the Terror Legionnaires were constructing an altar out of stone slabs as the Lady painted a diagram on the church’s wooden floor. As he did, Major Terror pulled the mesmerized children off Blue Streak and wrapped his arms and legs with normal (but thick) steel chain. Then he let the kids take hold again. “Aaahhh… the Green Witch!” Lady Jettatura gushed, as though they were all at a cocktail party that she was giving. “So GOOD of you to attend!”
“Spare me!” the Green Witch spat. “What did you do to those kids?”
“Oh, I just had those that had made their touching pleas to their parents taken into the Rectory, and had dear Jack here touch them with THIS.” She held up a large, rough, uncut stone of some ghastly pale translucent gemstone, about the size and shape of a football. “THIS is the Tear of Tristitia. I have a little bitty bit of their immortal souls in it. As long as I possess it, those little drones will do whatever I want them to. Even kill their parents,” she finished with a sadistic grin.
“You didn’t go through all this, just to kill a bunch of parents,” the Green Witch said, as though she was figuring something out. “And you’ve lost too many times by gloating.”
“Gloating? Me?” Lady Jettatura said in mock-shocked tone. “Really! I’m not here to gloat… I’m here to offer you a devil’s bargain.”
“Sorry, but I have all the magazine subscriptions that I need,” the Witch returned wryly.
“How droll. No, I am here to offer you a choice between life and death. A LOT of death.”
“Yeah. You’re gonna kill me. How original. While there are a bunch of *ahem!* ‘people’ who would be very glad if I died right at this moment, what’s in it for YOU? You’ll still never find my lair. I may be out of the way, but it WILL come out that you killed me, and there WILL be people who’ll make it their business to bring you down. You gain nothing, but a fleeting moment’s satisfaction - and another murder on that wretched shriveled thing that you sneeringly call a soul.”
“NOT QUITE,” Lady Jettatura drawled, raising a finger. “Hear my terms, first. Your first option is that you will admit complete defeat and surrender everything - and I DO mean EVERYTHING - to me. Your essence, your lair, all those lovely trinkets that you’ve stashed away in that lair, all your money, all favors mystical and mundane owed you.”
“Dream on, bitch.”
“You know, you have absolutely NO chance of getting out of those chains,” the Lady said chidingly. “The links are enchanted, and the clasp,” she reached over and touched the golden snake. “That was made by Deicide himself. There’s no magic in the world that will break that bond. Next, you will give me full, complete, detailed, accurate, and truthful information about every, and I do mean every mystic that you know, especially the ‘superheroic’ ones. I know that you white hats talk to each other.”
“Go to hell.”
“No, YOU are going to Hell. I have other plans. Next, you will bend knee before me and swear to the Wretched Vow of Eternal Submission, that you will serve me in all ways, for the rest of your life, doing everything and anything that I order you to do. If you do this, I will keep you alive for as long as it suits me.”
“You’re obviously not very bright. ‘Dream on, bitch’ and ‘go to hell’ mean NO.”
Lady Jettatura smiled the smile of a cat playing with a mouse. “You haven’t heard my alternative. JACK!” Jack Devil popped out of nowhere and handed the Lady a plastic carrying case. She opened the case. “Perhaps you remember THIS?” she pulled out a small red clay figurine of a hunched up demon or monster thing.
Even from up in the rafters, Stacy got a chill, just looking at it. The Green Witch’s reaction was even worse. She paled and stiffened and said, “NO! Not… HIM! Where did you get that? I threw that thing back into the PIT!”
“Yes,” Lady Jettatura drawled with a grin. “How does the Americanism go? ‘Born and bred in the briar patch’?” She chuckled malevolently for a bit and then said. “Do you remember what happened the LAST time our friend here gaily traipsed through Cincinnati, skipping with innocent glee? Do you remember Graywolf? He thought that wretched wolf spirit of his could heal anything. He was wrong. By the way… did they ever find enough of him to bother burying?
“Of course, it takes more than this fetching little trinket to bring him into this world. It takes the blood sacrifice of 144 innocent virgins. And you know the joke… these days, in order to find that many virgins you’d either have to go to a convent…” she turned and looked at the assembled children. “…or a grade school…”
“You CAN’T!” Spenser yelled through his shroud of serpents, “You promised if we watched them, that nothing would happen to them!”
“No I didn’t,” the Lady said simply. “HE did.” She pointed at Dark Claw.
“I LIED,” he said nastily.
“Oh LOOK!” Lady Jettatura pulled a crude chipped obsidian knife from the case. “He even threw in a knife! How considerate! I must send him a thank-you note.”
“And what will THAT get you?”
“Well, if YOU won’t give me my proper due,” the Lady said with a tone like a disapproving nanny, “He WILL. He’ll simply mash Cincinnati flat, starting with the more prosperous neighborhoods, of course, until he comes across a warded house that gives him any real resistance. Then I’ll come, break down your wards, and find your lair. HE will then go merrily off and devastate the rest of Cincinnati. Well, I prefer subtlety, but there comes a time when you simply have to resort to brute force.
“It’s entirely your own fault, you know. If you’d simply given me all those gewgaws when I asked for them, none of those people would have had to die. Not them,” she gestured at the other heroes. “And certainly not them,” she pointed at the whimpering children.
“Hold on-” the Witch interrupted. “You said that you needed 144 sacrifices; you only nabbed 120 kids.”
“True. 120 little ones… and 30 older ones.” She smiled at the wan expression on the chaperones’ faces. “It’s touching to see that, even in this degenerate age, some girls DO care about keeping their virginity. And our mutual friend won’t mind a few extras.”
Hayley moaned, “Oh, MAN, I’m never gonna live this down…”
Even through the chain veil, you could see the predatory grin on Lady Jettatura’s face as she leaned over and said, “Well, now that you’ve heard the alternative, what do you say to my very reasonable first offer? You’ll still rot in HELL when I’ve tired of you, but at least you won’t be rotting in hell with the deaths and souls of 150 innocents on your conscience…”
Stacy knew that it was all up to her. They were all SO totally screwed.
How could she do anything? Lady Jettatura was right - without her mutant powers, Stacy wasn’t good for shit! Even if she could face all those supervillains down with her powers, if she used them, then Lady Jettatura would use those spell-thingies to crush her using her own powers - no, she said that the spell affected Stacy’s sheath, but she thought that that was all of Stacy’s power.
But Stacy could use her powers to lift things at a distance. If she didn’t go invisible or put up her silver, then Lady Jet’s spell wouldn’t do anything to her! ‘Okay Stacy, keep it simple; God knows that’s all you’re good for,’ she thought to herself. ‘Don’t try to go toe to toe with anyone. Just use the PK to keep from getting hit. Just surprise them, get that stupid idol thing away from them, and maybe wreck some of those tech-thingies before they react. Maybe if I take out the creepy stick-guy, Captain Patriot will be able to get the others free.’
“Hold it!” Dark Claw said. “Edge! Get the camera running! I want everyone to see that we BEAT SPECTRUM!”
“Dark Claw…” Lady Jettatura said warningly.
“HEY! If it ain’t on camera, then it didn’t happen,” Dark Claw insisted. “Besides, if I send an image of the local supes all trussed up like Thanksgivin’ turkeys, the ‘rents will all fall over themselves payin’ off!”
“And WHY should I care?” the Lady said coldly.
“HEY, I only got, like, FOUR hits!”
“Four hundred thousand dollars in a numbered bank account in Karedonia isn’t bad, for a first operation.”
“And MORE would be better! Sides,” Dark Claw added with a grin, “Wouldn’t it be GREAT to be able to watch the Green Witch eat shit while she’s takin’ that vow, whenever you wanna?”
As Dark Claw gloated into the video camera, Stacy flew over to just over Lady Jettatura, dropped her invisibility and dropped like a rock on top of the infernal mage. The Lady went down like a sack of potatoes, and Stacy thought that maybe she broke her collarbone, maybe both. As the general reaction to her appearance was ‘SUPERGIRL?’, Stacy grabbed the yucky idol and chucked it at the big crystal that was controlling the kids, on a table maybe ten feet away. Stacy managed to put the idol through the crystal, shattering the crystal, and embedding the idol into the mass of one of the machines. Not bothering to follow that, Stacy knocked Dr. Tenebros a good ten feet, wheeling head over heels. Then, getting while the getting was good, she ran towards the fancy platform with the weird projector-thing.
Two of Dark Claw’s goons were between Stacy and Dr. Strega’s work station. They both emptied their clips of ammunition at her, which her PK deflected easily. They tried the ‘pepper spray’, which was just as ineffective. Then she grabbed their rifles and tore them from their grasps. Grasping at straws in face of the comic book character come to life, one of them said, “Would it help anything, if I said that I always preferred you to Wonder Woman?”
Stacy was at Dr. Strega’s work platform, when the assembled Infernals finally reacted and started moving in her direction.
“NOW!” yelled ‘Violet’ as she gestured within her capture sphere.
As Lady Jettatura (who was a lot tougher than her svelte figure would suggest) struggled to her feet, the ‘Green Witch’ glowed with purple power within her mystic chains. When the amethyst blaze faded, Violet was there, wrapped up in the chains. “SUCK-ER!” she jeered as lilac lines of power raced through the chains, blasting them away from Violet’s body. Stacy didn’t see that; she was too busy being all too aware of the infernal villains charging in her direction. In a very ‘DC Supergirl’ moment, she picked Dr. Strega’s platform up off its suspension field, hefted it over her head, and threw it at Major Terror, throwing Dr. Strega from the platform in the process.
The whirling sphere around ‘Violet’ sputtered but didn’t fail. Even so, ‘Violet’ flickered and reappeared as the Green Witch, who twiddled her fingers and produced several whirling ethereal ‘saw blades’ that ripped apart the containment orb. ‘Tawny’ revealed herself as Azure, who ripped the slave collar off her neck with barely a pause. The real Tawny, who had been play-acting as Azure, stopped pretending that the hell-blasts had affected her in the least. Together, they tore into the Terror Legionnaires with gusto. As Rot tried to follow what was going on, there was a blurring under her, and Captain Patriot suddenly reached up and grabbed her by the arms, unaffected by her curse of decay. “Yo!” he called out, “VI! CATCH!” He threw Rot at Violet, who trapped her in one of her purple power spheres. Once he was sure about Rot, Cap launched himself at Major Terror, who had caught Dr. Strega’s workstation and was trying to put it down without wrecking it. “HEY! BAD BOY! Wanna try the Real McCoy?” He tackled Major Terror from behind, knocking him down and bringing the workstation crashing down on top of him.
As Dr. Tenebros rose and shook his head, the snakes around Spenser got vague and hazy. But they didn’t dissipate. Rather, they sort of sank into Spenser, and he was filled with a soul-chilling, nerve-tearing, mind-numbing fear that left him paralyzed, in ways that nothing that Tenebros had done to him before had.
The mound of writhing worms shuddered and shook, and then started flailing around as some unseen energy cooked them. Then they exploded outwards, and in the center of where they had been, the Golden Knight stood, crackling with energy. The Knight took the barest second to scan the situation and noted Dark Claw moving in the general direction of the huddled children and high school girls. “Violet!” he shouted, “Defense!”
Violet nodded and left off wrapping Lady Jettatura in a power sphere. She flew over to the massed hostages, placed up a protective screen and resumed her defensive posture. “Hey!” Red Thunder - who had apparently traded places with Blue Streak - called from where he was still under a pile of ensorcelled first graders, “A little HELP here?” He could have lifted off, but not without risking hurting the kids. In the whirling sphere that now held him, Blue Streak was in more or less the same predicament. Both the Green Witch and the Golden Knight helped out with blasts that freed the Streak. Tawny did a handspring that got her away from the Terror Legionnaires, leaving them for Azure, and went to help Red.
Stacy was looking around, trying to understand what had happened. And, more importantly, if there was anything that she should obviously be doing. Cap was mixing it up with Major Terror again, but this time fighting a lot smarter, though the Major seemed to be hurting Cap more when he did connect this time. The Golden Knight was going toe-to-toe with Dark Claw, and the Green Witch was trading spells with Lady Jettatura. Was there anyone that she was forgetting? Oh yeah! That Tenebros asshole! Stacy got set to run at him, when she felt something enter the invisible protective sphere of force that she had around herself. Reflexively, she ducked as Jack Devil took a cheap shot at the back of her head with his trident. She grappled with him rather gracelessly for a second, before he disappeared in another cloud of brimstone.
Snarling with frustration, Stacy decided that it was time to keep her promise to herself, and beat the crap out of that sicko Tenebros. She charged at him with a yell, but Tenebros just stood there smirking. As she was right up on him, he proclaimed, “So Brave! So Fearless! But how courageous are you NOW?” He suddenly produced a large grapefruit-sized transparent green crystal, seemingly from nowhere. “WELL, Supergirl?”
Stacy stopped, gave Tenebros a ‘are you kidding me?’ look, and took the ‘kryptonite’ from his hand. “It’s HALLOWEEN, asshole…” Then she shoved the crystal into his mouth and tried to ram it down his throat.
Unfortunately, Lady Jettatura seemed to notice this, and paused in her mystic combat with the Green Witch to throw her specially-prepared ‘Anti-Silver Ghost’ spell slips. The slips flew toward Stacy like guided missiles. Stacy barely had time to see them coming and frame in her mind the wish that her protective sphere of force wouldn’t be affected the way her sheath would. Then Blue Streak plucked the slips out of the very air, and zipped over to where Captain Patriot and Major Terror were slugging it out. “Hold these,” Streak told the Major as he handed him the spell slips. The Major reflexively took the slips. They burned in his blazing hand one second before it registered with the Major as to exactly what they were. As the Major howled in recognition of what he’d done, Captain Patriot took advantage of his distraction to set up a seven-stage combination that really bonged the blazing bastard’s bell.
For his part, Dr. Tenebros, took advantage of Stacy’s distraction to pull the ‘kryptonite’ crystal from his mouth and chuck it at Tawny, Red Thunder, and the enthralled school kids. In mid-flight, the crystal shattered and turned into five green flaming wolves that slavered and kept charging. Red Thunder managed to disperse one of them with a blast, but the kids kept spoiling his aim for his next three shots.
Ducking from cover to cover, Dr. Strega saw that her side wasn’t doing that well. And if Lady Jettatura was either dead or in jail, she couldn’t release the second part of Strega’s payment from escrow. So, Dr. Strega finally made it to the heap that was left of her workstation and quickly checked the circuits. They were in working shape. As though that little blonde walking copyright infringement was the first person to try the old ‘throw the workstation at someone’ trick!
She found the projector, selected her spots and made sure that she had the power flow. Then she yelled out, “Hey, TENEBROS!” She hit the trigger, and her synthetic manifestation projector created twelve towering insect-like humanoids with compound eyes, vicious mandibles and glittering carapaces that had a formidable array of spikes and projections. “So, you still think they’re ‘jejune’?”
“As a matter of fact,” Tenebros shouted back, despite the fact that Stacy had him by the lapels, “YES!” He gestured and a mass of huge monstrous centipedes exploded out from him, overwhelming Stacy for a moment and sprawling towards the heroes. The Green Witch paused in her battle with Lady Jettatura, giving the Lady a much needed breather. The Lady mused for a second that she’d never thought that she’d be thankful for Strega and Tenebros’ juvenile rivalry, but here was the opening that she’d needed.
As the SPECTRUM heroes turned to deal with the insectoids, Lady Jettatura reached into her robes and pulled out a pouch. She threw it high over Red Thunder, Tawny and the struggling tykes, and ‘burst’ it with a blast of hellfire. The pouch exploded into a rain of sparkles that fell on the mass of heroes and entranced children. The heroes weren’t affected, but the children stopped dead in their tracks. Then Lady Jettatura held her hands up high, gave out a vicious yawp, and jagged streaks of black lightning lanced at the children.
“NO!” Spenser yelled, overcoming his terror. He ran and inserted himself between the Lady and the children, taking one of the bolts of lightning square in the chest. The lightning splintered off his chest and knocked him down, but kept going with dogged determination toward the children.
The children melted. They ran like molten wax, pooling into a single mass, but somehow managing to keep bits of pieces of their individual identities, with faces and hands and recognizable pieces of costumes showing here and there. The amorphous conglomeration flowed over both Red Thunder and Tawny, and then lurched toward the other SPECTRUM heroes, giving out mewling cries for help even as it advanced. Red Thunder exploded out of the mass, yelling, “WHAT THE HELL?”
“Tut, tut!” Dr. Tenebros chided him, “Such language in front of children! What WILL their parents say?” Then a swarm of glassine wasps emerged from his mouth and flew at Red Thunder. Violet launched a barrage of blasts at Dr. Tenebros, which he deflected with a barrier of ghosts, and returned with a flock of ghosts that circled around Violet, wailing like lost souls.
“GHOSTS?” Dr. Strega yelled, “And you call ME ‘trite’?”
“You’re right,” Tenebros admitted. “Then let’s see real ART at work!” But as he raised his hands in a gesture like an orchestra conductor’s, a hand tapped him on the shoulder. “Eh?” All that he had time to see was a delicate pale blue gloved fist coming right at his nose.
As the stars cleared from his eyes, Tenebros was just able to see a lovely young girl (with glasses) wearing the classic blue Disney Cinderella gown. She had a look of incandescent rage on her face as she raised her opera gloved arm for another punch that clipped him on the jaw.
“Oh… hello, Cindy…” he said weakly, just before ‘she’ kicked him in the nads with her (hard plastic) ‘glass slippers’.
Tenebros painfully straightened up and said in an atypically sane and ordinary voice, “You’re not afraid of me, are you?”
“NO!” ‘she’ snarled as she took both ends of his mustache in her left hand and started to use his face as a speed bag with the other. “I’m PISSED!”
Bapedda- Bapedda- Bapedda- Bapedda!
“I… was… afraid… of… that,” Tenebros said through the blows. “I… hate… it… when… this… happens…”
Stacy managed to fly over the flood of mewling flesh and drag Tawny out of it. “What IS that?”
“How would I know?” Tawny snarled. “Just get me over to HER,” Tawny indicated Lady Jettatura. “Odds are she’s controlling that thing, and besides, it’s not like she doesn’t have a heavy industrial quality ass-kicking coming to her.” Stacy shrugged and threw Tawny at the black mage, who was trading curses - in every sense of the word - with the Green Witch. “Cover the kids!” Tawny yelled as she flew.
Stacy saw immediately that Tawny meant the kids who hadn’t melted into an inhuman morass. Unfortunately, so did Jack Devil, who appeared in a puff of smoke, and grabbed one of the little power rangers. Jack spun around, holding the tip of his glowing red pitchfork to the little boy’s face and started to say something. But Lauren lunged forward and bopped Jack on the back of his head with her blunt (but very solid) chakram. As Jack reeled, Stacy grabbed the little boy and picked both of them up with a powerful jerk. Jack went flying, but Stacy kept her grip on the little boy, whom she handed right back to Abby. Seeing Abby in her ‘Silver Ghost’ costume, Stacy decided that it was time to get a cape that she could actually USE. “Trade you,” she said in a slightly deeper, more aggressive tone that she normally used, and exchanged her short red ‘Supergirl’ cape for the long silvery cape that Abby was wearing. She pulled the cape on with a swirl, going silvery and then invisible as she did, leaving the amassed kids wide-eyed as she went.
“You little FOOL!” Dr. Tenebros managed to snarl at ‘Cinderella’ through his bloody teeth. “I AM FEAR! I have more mind-shattering power in one little finger than you could possibly ENDURE! You have NEVER seen anything as fearsome as me!”
“You’ve never been to a private school, have you?” Spenser shot back as he gave Tenebros a punch that tore the mustache off his face, sending the boogeyman sprawling.
Tenebros staggered to his feet and said in a punch-drunk voice, “Uncle Walt would be appalled!” Then he collapsed down into his own high hat, which disappeared in a puff of smoke.
It took a moment for Cal to get control of the Golden Knight drone back and reassess the combat situation, after the glob-thing dissolved. The vital energy of the glob had cut the drone off from its broadcast power relays, which meant that he’d been cut off almost entirely. Dark Claw used the Golden Knight’s lapse of attention to lay into the power armor with his blazing gauntlet, hoping to up his cred by taking out a big name superhero on his first outing. The Knight just stood there, soaking up the damage. Dark Claw cocked his fist, setting up for a real haymaker that might just take the Knight out (on camera!). Then, just as he was starting to throw his punch, a green gloved hand hooked into his gauntlet, and he found his punch only added his own strength to the throw that him face-first into the floor.
With a groan, Dark Claw peeled himself up off the floor. But just as he was getting up, he felt two powerful metallic hands grab him by the collar and belt and lift him up. The Golden Knight was back online, and he lifted Dark Claw over his head and threw him as far as he could. Dark Claw landed a good thirty feet away. But Dark Claw recovered quickly, and saw that the Golden Knight had accidentally put him in a position to take control of the situation. “HEY HERO!” he yelled out, getting to his feet. “Thanks for the lift! Now, ALL of you hero-losers, FREEZE! Or, I’ll FRY all the small fry!” He pointed his gauntlet at the amassed hostages.
The Green Witch let out a sharp attention-getting whistle. “You mean… with THIS?” She held up Dark Claw’s gauntlet.
“WHAT? HOW?” Dark Claw gawped, as he looked at his naked hand.
“It’s a knack,” GW said off-handedly. Then she just as off-handedly parried the flight of Ethereal Daggers that Lady Jettatura cast at her back.
Dark Claw spotted two of his boys, unconscious on the ground with their assault rifles next to them. He jumped at a rifle, aimed it, and let loose a burst at the kids, just to get the heroes to take him seriously. But the Silver Ghost popped up between him and his targets, with her cape stretched out. Dark Claw knew that he hit, but for some reason his bullets just… stopped… at the Silver Ghost’s cape and dropped. Then the Blue Streak zipped past, taking the gun away from him. And then Azure dropped her metal cable ‘lasso’ around him, jerked him off his feet, spun him around in a wide circle four times and used him to trash the five of the Bug-Devils.
Jack Devil took advantage of all that to try and gain a hostage who couldn’t be turned against him. He popped up right behind Spenser, and was just about to get him in a choke hold, when something he couldn’t see pegged him with the force of a sledge hammer. As he staggered and grunted, Spenser became aware of him and hit Jack squarely in the face with equal fury, if less power. Still, it kept Jack off balance as another invisible punch rattled his teeth. Spenser tore the pitchfork from Jack’s hand as a ghostly kick caught him in the middle, and brought it down across the back of Jack’s head, breaking it in two. Jack went down on his knees, moaned, “Getting the crap kicked out of me by Cinderella! I’m never gonna live this down!” and disappeared in a puff of brimstone.
The greater mass of SPECTRUM heroes were trying to somehow cope with the aggressive amalgamation of first graders without hurting the children. While they were getting their asses handed to them, at least the nebulous mass of hands and faces was dealing equal damage to Tenebros’ remaining manifestations and Strega’s bug-warriors. The Green Witch yelled “IT’S A TRICK! That thing has no soul! It’s motivated wholly by her magic! There aren’t any kids in there!”
Lady Jettatura made an annoyed sound. “Tattletale!” She pulled four more slips from a sleeve and sent them flying out of the room, through the rectory. There was a crash and a sound of many young voices screaming, and a sort of… glooping… sound, and a slow-motion flood of a sort of runny pudding of grayish-pink color, flowed through the back door of the main area.
“Oh… crap…” Captain Patriot and Major Terror said as one.
With the noteworthy exception of Lady Jettatura, all of the combatants were buried under a layer of pulsing proto-flesh. Here and there, lumps wiggled, struggling futilely to extricate themselves. “I think that I’ll let her suffocate for a bit before I hack her out,” Lady Jettatura chuckled.
Lady Jettatura whipped her head around to discover that somehow the Blue Streak had managed to escape her flesh-flood, (gee, y’think that maybe he outran it?) and was soccer-kicking the power sphere containing Rot right at her. The Lady reflexively lashed out with a powerful entropic bolt that shattered Violet’s containment orb…
…and dumped Rot right into the writhing mass of proto-flesh, which reflexively reacted by trying to engulf her. Rot just as reflexively caused the flesh to decay, frantically consuming her first filling meal in her memory. She called in all the vital energy that she could, and gorged her curse, finally giving herself a few moments respite from the hunger. This reduced the entire protoplasmic mass to a disgusting layer of viscous slime that lay over everything and everyone.
The Green Witch used her magic to cleanse herself and (with a moment’s pause) her comrades. “THAT,” she grated at Lady Jettatura, “was SICK, even for YOU!”
“I haven’t even gotten warmed up,” Lady Jettatura purred. She pulled a flute out from her sleeve, and watching the heroes closely watching her, suddenly threw it with great force at the large crocodile-headed crockery jar, shattering it. There was a roar like a tidal wave, and a flood of water, a thousand times larger than the container, came rushing out, sweeping everyone off their feet.
Well, almost everyone; yet again, Lady Jettatura stood untouched, and Major Terror just barely managed to lift off without getting splashed. “Whoa!” he exclaimed, “I’m useless here!” He flew up and crashed through the roof.
“Not so fast, Hot Stuff!” Captain Patriot shouted. “I’m not done with you yet, Sleazebag!” Cap tore himself from the torrent’s grasp, and followed the Major through the hole in the roof.
The water acted as though it was alive, and tore at the SPECTRUM heroes and the infernals with equal fury, forming crocodilian maws that tore at them all. It ripped three of the Terror Legionnaires apart along with most of the flayed men and all of the remaining bug-warriors. Dr. Strega barely managed to get a protective sphere around her workstation, and Stacy kept the waters at bay from the huddled kids with her PK. But all the others were mercilessly ripped at. The SPECTRUM heroes barely managed to hold on, but the remaining infernals huddled around Lady Jettatura, who was an island of confident calm in all the chaos. She held up the ankh and said in a loud authoritative voice, “SOBEK!” then she rattled off something that Stacy couldn’t follow for the life of her. “SOBEK!” More gobbledygook. “SOBEK!” Then Lady Jettatura said something that Stacy didn’t need an interpreter to know meant, ‘ATTACK!’
The waters gathered up into a roughly man-sized column, which gelled into a stocky grayish-green very POWERFUL looking reptilian figure in a white Egyptian breechcloth, black headdress with a tall golden façade and golden bracers. The alien figure opened its narrow, fang-filled snout and let out a hiss that sounded like a raging flood.
“Oh crap,” Stacy said. She didn’t know who this new guy was, but every bone in her body was telling her that this guy was Big Time Bad News. Then she realized that she’d totally spaced on the fact that the kids were still there in the open main worship area. “What are you still DOING here?” she yelled, “Get OUT! NOW!” she herded them all, tykes and teens alike, out of the room into the back.
In the back, she found the other group of kids, still very much whole and alive and not turned into an oozing Lovecraftian mass of unspeakable horror. They also found three of the goons in black armor, holding those guns on the kids. Two of the goons spun around and turned their guns on Stacy and the second batch of kids. “And where do YOU think you’re going?” One of the goons snarled.
They didn’t react to Stacy, so they must have thought that she was Abby, in her ‘Silver Ghost’ costume. Still she couldn’t risk them wising up, so she used her PK to tear the rifles out of the goons’ hands. As they gawped at her, she grabbed them and slammed their heads together with enough force that she cracked both their helmets. As the third goon reacted, she grabbed him by his leading arm and threw him across the rectory room. Figuring that these guys wouldn’t be so badass without the combat armor, Stacy ‘shelled’ them out of it. Then she handed one of the assault rifles to Spenser. “Here! If they get out of line, squirt them with that pepper sprayer thing.”
Pausing for a moment at the absurdity of Cinderella as armed badass, Stacy returned to the door. She looked out at the melee, hoping to find something that she could do, that wouldn’t make things worse.
Major Terror did a tight 180 at about 200 feet up and slammed his fist into Captain Patriot’s face. This sent Cap flying back, and he would have creamed a bunch of SWAT cops, but Blue Streak caught him in mid-flight and spared the PD the collateral damage. Being so much faster than the rest of SPECTRUM, Blue Streak often found that he was most effective as damage control, keeping their superfights from causing more injury and damage than the bad guys. It wasn’t as satisfying as kicking ass himself, but being the good guy meant doing the right thing, no matter how little fun it was. He dashed around and either denied Major Terror the weapon that he was going for, or kept one of the two powerhouses’ attacks from destroying something. Then he got a message on his communicator from the Golden Knight [Streak, we need you and Cap. We’re getting our butts kicked here. Where are you?]
“Cap is handling Major Badness, and I’m keeping them from trashing the neighborhood. Can’t you handle it?”
[Whatever it is, it’s creating tons of water. My drone’s underwater, and I can’t get my signal through, and the drone’s on batteries]
[Hey, come up with a better way of powering my drone, and I’ll use it. In the meantime, I’m useless]
“So? Do something useful! Go online and google this ‘Major Terror’ guy or that ‘Sobek’ freak. For instance, does this Major Terror guy have any weaknesses? Or that Sobek guy? And why did Major Pain-in-the-Ass split like that?”
[Okay, I might as well. God knows, I’m not doing anything USEFUL]
The Streak would have felt sorry for Cal, but he was too busy keeping the State Troopers from getting squashed.
Stacy’s invisibility only saved her from the horrible magical attacks that Lady Jettatura was throwing around. It did nothing for the water that was everywhere, and she was getting pummeled by that Sow-beck guy throwing the members of SPECTRUM around like dolls. The Golden Knight was down and not moving. Azure was getting thrashed. Red Thunder was out for the count. The only one who was having any luck whatsoever against Sobek was Tawny, who seemed to be able to avoid everything the big goon had to throw at her. Stacy managed to get in and land a few punches, but she didn’t think that he even felt them. He was THAT tough.
Oh well, Stacy wasn’t doing any good against the alligator-guy, so she might as well see what she could do against the formidable Lady Jettatura. The Lady was slugging it out with the Green Witch, and needed both hands for hexes, so she’d handed that golden loop-cross thing to one of the guys in red armor to hold. Hey, Sow-beck had been mopping up the floor with everyone until Lady Jet used that cross-thing on him. If she could get that cross to the Green Witch, then maybe Karen could get the big freak under HER control! Getting the cross away from Lady Jet would have been way too much for Stacy to hope for. But the thug in red? Not a problem!
Stacy flew invisibly at the group, but almost broke her nose on an invisible wall that was (among other things) keeping Sobek’s waters away from the infernals. Stacy pounded at the shield without any affect. Then she started working at it with her fingers, and she found that if she sort of slipped her hand in, rather than slamming at it, she could get past it. She slipped through, grabbed the goon holding the cross, and pulled him off his feet. Dropping her invisibility, she ripped the cross from his hands and threw him at Lady Jettatura, temporarily dropping both of them. Stacy moved past the shield again and yelled, “Gee-Dubyew! Catch!” She threw the ankh to Karen.
Karen caught the ankh and immediately knew what to do. As Stacy pitched the red goon at Lady Jet, and Tawny moved to cover her, the Green Witch moved to confront Sobek, holding the ankh before her. She spoke forcefully in Latin, ordering the river-god to submit to her authority.
Blue Streak grabbed the hideous dog-demon-thing by its horns and whisked it off before it could do more than scare the SWAT trooper. He circled the church with it a couple of times and slammed it into a streetlamp post. The devil-dog staggered long enough for the SWAT gunnies to unload shotguns loaded with slugs, specially blessed on the spot by Father George Massinger, the Police chaplain. This was the third one that they’d taken care of that way, and the fourth one was getting cagy.
Cap and the big guy in black-and-red were still going at it, but they were both starting to slow down a bit. “Y’know, you’re fucking ridiculous,” Major Terror rasped. “I mean, LOOK at you! You’re a fucking Uncle Tom! Do you honestly think that America gives a rat’s filthy ass about your kind? Blacks have always been America’s toilet paper, and they always WILL be! Do you think wearing that stupid costume will make them forget the fact that your skin is darker than theirs? What are you? A hypocrite, or just plain stupid?”
Cap gave a lopsided grin. “I think I know that I’m smart enough to spot someone who’s trying to trash talk his way out of the fact that he just can’t beat me in a straight up fight. You know that you can’t win honestly, ‘cause I’m actually fighting FOR something, while you’re just fighting to keep the things that you sold your soul to from calling in their debt. I think that I just WON this fight.”
“Oh, that explains it- you’re just plain stupid.”
[Streak!] Cal piped up on Blue Streak’s communicator.
“You got something for me, big guy?” The Streak said as he tried to herd the last horned hellbeast into a position where he could grab it.
[Yeah, I went on HeroNet and found an analysis of Major Terror’s fights. There’s a theory - it’s not tested, it’s just a theory - that the Major may have a mystic weakness to water]
[Hey, he’s all about hellfire, right? Everyone knows that Water quenches Fire]
“Hell… Fire…?” Streak mused. “Good Work, Gee-Kay!” He streaked over to where Father George was blessing a pile of magazines. “Yo, Padre! A moment of your valuable time?”
Sobek paused, and stared at the Green Witch. The fury of the waters calmed for a moment. Then Sobek roared like Noah’s Flood, and, if anything, his wrath was even greater. Screaming loud curses in Italian, Lady Jettatura tried to get the ankh back, to reassert her authority over the crocodile god. She almost had the cross in her grasp when Azure jumped her and wrestled her for it. Lady Jettatura found herself in hand to hand combat with Azure, which wasn’t her forte, by a long shot. And it was Azure’s. It didn’t take Azure long to smack Lady Jettatura down, and start towards the ankh.
But, just as Azure was about to pick it up and figure out where Karen had gone wrong, two of the Terror Legionnaires turned their pitchforks on the ankh, covering it with fire and preventing her from picking it. Azure tried gingerly to get past the flames, but Sobek chose that moment to send a geyser of water at her, sending her sprawling.
‘Oh crap,’ Stacy thought to herself, ‘gotta get that thing to Karen!’ She used her PK powers to drag the cross over to her. But just as she had the cross in her hands, Sobek launched himself at her, jaws wide open, teeth like the points on the gate to Hell, roaring like the end of the world. Reflexively, flinching away from him, Stacy held the cross up in front of her and squeaked out, “STOP!”
Major Terror was lifting a squad car (with two police officers in it) over his head, to throw at Captain Patriot, when Blue Streak zipped past, throwing a flask of water in the Major’s face. The water burned the Major like acid, and steam covered his face. Major Terror screamed, and clutched at his face, dropping the squad car in the process. On top of himself. Blue Streak was back to Father George in a trice. “It worked like a charm. Got any more?”
“I don’t exactly carry it around in gallon jugs, you know.”
The Streak zipped off and was back in a trice, carrying eight plastic gallon jugs of purified water. “You should. Get to work, Padre!”
”STOP!” Stacy squeaked, face averted, eyes screwed shut, holding the ankh before her, not so much that she honestly thought that it would stop Sobek, as she couldn’t think of anything better to do.
The raging torrent ceased, and the water actually disappeared, never actually having been there in the first place. The reptilian man-god stood there, befanged maw agape, looking at Stacy with eyes of saurian (if impotent) rage. Stacy uncoiled from her flinch and opened her eyes. She saw Sobek standing there, looking at her. She saw everyone else looking at her, and it drove home to her that she was the lynchpin of the situation. “uuhhhmm.. K- er, Green Witch? What do I do?” she asked in a tone of barely controlled panic, ending in a squeak.
“FOOL!” Lady Jettatura roared, “Give me that ankh!” With a negligent wave of her hand, she created a talon out of hellfire, which she sent to tear the ankh from Stacy’s grasp. But this was the opening that the Green Witch had been looking for. She sent a bolt of raw Malkuthean force at Lady Jet, one that she normally would have deflected easily. The bolt sent Lady Jettatura sprawling, and the talon dissipated before it laid a single claw on the ankh.
“S-Silver Ghost!” the Green Witch said with calm reassuring authority, “For some reason, Sobek’s listening to you. Tell it to attack and contain the Infernals.”
“Sobek!” Stay said, “Get the bad guys!”
“Silver,” Tawny snapped, “how is he supposed to understand anything as subjective as- well, will you look at THAT?” Sobek tore into the massed Infernals, ripping through Lady Jettatura’s mystic defenses like they were rice paper. Despite the defenses that his armor still had without the gauntlet, Dark Claw was slapped down like a small puppy that had been naughty. Dr. Strega put all her workstation’s power into its defenses, but she barely had time to crawl into the workstation’s escape pod and send it rocketing through the church’s roof. The Terror Dogs’ bodies were ripped apart and the flame demons within extinguished by the waters. The Terror Legionnaires unabashedly ran for their collective lives, with Dark Claw’s flunkies hot on their heels.
Lady Jettatura looked up from where the Green Witch had sent her crashing, just in time to see the last of her forces crumbling like a sand castle before a summer storm. She muttered to herself in Italian, “And my horoscope said that this was going to be a good day for me…” In her many years as a black mystic and professional criminal, Lady Jettatura had learned many hard lessons. One of them was that no one won every time, and you never knew which time you’d lose. So, despite the fact that she had every expectation and intention of winning, she’d left herself an ‘escape hatch’, namely a pair of pre-cast teleportation spells. The first one would whisk her back to the boathouse, and, since she didn’t have to worry about setting off any ‘alarms’ on her way out, the second one would take her all the way back to the Grand Hall chapter house in New York. She reached into her left sleeve and pulled off the charm that triggered the first teleportation spell.
Even the lesser of Lady Jettatura’s two spells had repercussions. The ‘echoes’ of her passing shattered twelve mirrors, made seven clocks stop, set every dog on the west side of Cincinnati to barking, and caused every church bell in the neighborhood to start ringing. Everyone else found this annoying or startling. But to Major Terror, it was like every bell was going off all at once right in his ears. Captain Patriot paused for a second as the Major reeled, but figuring that fair play was worse than wasted on the likes of Major Terror, quickly took advantage of the opening to ring his chimes himself.
The Major struggled to his feet, and flared hellfire around him, losing all semblance of panache or glamour. He was a fiend in human form, and he was letting his true nature show. Then Blue Streak dashed past him, hitting with a gallon jug of holy water, right in the face. Major Terror screamed again as sulfurous steam billowed up around him, and it only got worse as the Streak hit him again and again with gallon jugs going at 100+ MPH. The steam grew so thick and nauseating that neither Captain Patriot or Blue Streak could see through it. Major Terror’s barely visible form picked up one of the police cruisers and threw it into an apartment building. Then he launched himself into the air, going in the other direction. “I HATE IT when they do that!” Cap snarled, but he knew where his duty lay.
As Captain Patriot and the Blue Streak did their best to save the occupants of the imperiled apartment building, the streaming form came to earth four blocks away, just as the hellfire that maintained Major Terror’s form gave out. The steam died, leaving the withered, crippled form of a desiccated old man sprawled out on the sidewalk. Railing as his ruined lungs struggled to get oxygen to his blood, he feebly hauled himself along the sidewalk. He tensed as he heard the sounds of feet on the sidewalk. It was unlikely that they’d recognize him as the mortal form of Major Terror, but the thought of playing at being a feeble old codger was hateful to him. “Sir!”
Two of the Terror Legionnaires brought a wheelchair, as the Sergeant administered oxygen to his commander. “Are you alright, sir?”
“I’ve… been better…” He breathed deeply. “How many of the rest of our men got out?”
“Only three didn’t make it.”
“Did they hold the line?”
“Right up to the point when the alligator geek turned on us. Then we all lit out.”
“Good Man. Begin recovery efforts immediately. I don’t want them even waking up in jail, you understand?”
“What about Lady Jettatura?”
“She lit out before we did.”
“She would. Bitch.”
As the Terror Legionnaires shifted him into the chair, the Sergeant said, “Don’t worry, sir. No one can hold this against you. You should be able to convince a mage to open the portal for you again. You’ll be your real self again.”
“And hopefully, it’ll last more than a few hours, next time,” Major Terror snarled. Then he sighed. “Well, nothing for it. Let’s get started cleaning up the mess that Lady Jettatura left behind. I don’t want any traces of this left behind at the boathouse. First clear it, then clean it, then torch it. SOP.”
Stacy looked in awe at the carnage that Sobek had wrought at her order. All of both Drs. Strega and Tenebros’ constructs had been completely destroyed and washed away. The various mounds of technology were sparking heaps of electronic trash. Dark Claw was out cold. Five of his flunkies were just as unconscious, and three of the red thugs were laying around dazed. Every trace of the liquid-flesh monster had been washed away. The vile diagrams that had covered every surface of the church were also washed off. Only Rot still stood - or, rather, crouched on her hand and knees.
And she was laughing.
“Oh, this can NOT be good,” Azure said warily, having seen way too many villains laugh just that way before they opened up a whole new can of nasty.
“I’m clean!” ‘Rot’ howled in victory, “I’m finally CLEAN!” Then she spotted something, and then another thing, and then yet another. “NO! There are still bits and pieces of the rot!” She turned to Stacy, and pled, “PLEASE! Turn him on me again! Somehow, he’s washing away the rot! Please! I’ve lived with this for so long! Please make me clean again!”
Stacy looked to the Green Witch and quavered, “uhm… Green Witch…? What do I DO…?”
Warily, Karen carefully studied the woman called ‘Rot’. “You’re… familiar… somehow. Do I know you?”
Rot nodded. “We’ve met, a few times. My name’s Seabury. Quinn Seabury.”
“Seabury…? QUINN? Good GOD, what happened to you?”
Seabury’s eyes went bleak. “I refused to give Jettatura the Wretched Vow of Eternal Submission, when the bitch finally caught me with my guard down. The vindictive bitch found a way of using my healing magic against me. She turned me into a fucking monster, infected with a mystic rot that fed on my own healing magic, consuming my body, but not letting me die, and leaving me crazy with hunger. The only way that I could feed the hunger was to rot the flesh of a living body. I managed to only rot plants and animals, and stay away from people, but it was very touch and go for the past three years. The only reason that I’m as whole and hale as I am at the moment, is that your speedster buddy maneuvered me into consuming all that animated paut. I’ve been looking for a way of getting rid of that damned magical rot of hers for years. I was just never selfish or wanton enough to summon up an ancient god of disaster and death to get rid of it.”
“God of…?” the Green Witch struck herself on the brow. “OF COURSE! He’s SOBEK, the Egyptian God of the flooding Nile! Or, at least, a portion of him. There’s no way that his entirety could get from Africa to here. Sobek was the manifestation of the destructive potential of the annual flood - but he was also a repairer of evil! As long as he was controlled by the Pharaoh, he was a benign force!”
Seabury nodded. “That’s the only explanation for this,” she held up her unblemished - for the moment - hand. “But there are still minute bits of rot still on me. PLEASE, for all our sakes, tell Sobek to completely cleanse me!”
“Yes, St-, er, Silver, tell Sobek to wash away all the rot… NO… tell him to wash away all the EVIL that’s infesting Miss Seabury. After all, it would be right up Jettatura’s alley to leave a little something extra nasty inside you, kept in check only by the rot. And once we send Sobek back to Egypt, we can’t very well call him back.”
Stacy did as the Green Witch told her, and Sobek did as Stacy told it, and Quinn Seabury was buried under a torrent of water that did wash away the rot - and a few other things. As Seabury kneeled on the floor and thanked God for her deliverance, the Green Witch turned to Azure and Tawny. “Go, get the kids from the Halloween party. I can’t be sure, but we can’t take the chance that there really was something to that ‘Tear of Tristitia’ business - or something else we don’t know about.”
“Hunh?” Azure bleated, but Tawny seemed to get the Witch’s point, and they bounded off to herd the little lambs back into the fold.
Stacy’s heart almost broke when she saw the kids. Earlier, they’d been bouncy, noisy, rambunctious, squabbling little pains in the butt; now they were all huddled together, whimpering, fear in their eyes. This had been supposed to be a night of spooky, goofy fun. Instead, it had been a night of true horrors. What they’d been through would have been hard on adults. For first graders? It must be shattering. Even through his makeup, you could tell that Spenser, who had put up such a memorable fight, was frazzled. He held the assault rifle that he’d kept on the goons with a deathly grip. It galled Stacy that in a petty, vicious, meaningless way that would probably please her, Lady Jettatura had won a minor victory in breaking these children. Well, Stacy had had enough of that sort of thing! “SOBEK!” she commanded, real authority in her voice, “Wash away all the evil!”
“Stacy! NO!” Karen shouted, realizing that with a force like Sobek, an instruction like ‘wash away all the evil’ could lay waste to the entire Tri-State area. But, somehow, Sobek did not launch into a maelstrom of destruction. Instead, the crocodile-god spread its arms out, and opened its fanged snout. With a deep liquid gurgling, a strange, mist-like, not-water flowed out of Sobek’s snout and washed over the former hostages, flowing over them and through them. The children cringed at first, but then they leaned into the flow, the fear washing off of them like fresh mud. Spenser dropped his gun, and the expression of grim stoic determination faded, to be replaced by one of refreshed relief. Then Sobek turned and cast his purifying waters over the heroes and remaining thugs.
Then Stacy had Sobek stop. “Return to the Nile,” she told him. “Your work here is done. Return to your waters, with our thanks.”
The saurian regarded her for a moment, crossed its arms across its chest in a salute of sorts, and nodded slowly. The waters rushed around it in a whirlpool, and the godling disappeared like suds down a drain, leaving behind the dead bodies of Jasper Larmouth, a person known to the Cincinnati PD for his *ahem!* ‘questionable tastes’, and Nefertiti, a Nile Crocodile stolen from the Cincinnati zoo. Of the two, Nefertiti would be missed more.
Stacy slumped with relief, but still held the ankh in front of her. With Sobek’s passing, the rapt spell over the scene faded. The little boy in the Champion costume summed it up for all his classmates: “THAT. WAS. SO. TOTALLY! KEWL!”
As all the kids joined in clamorous agreement that this was the best Halloween EVAR(!), Spenser noticed something about the gown that he was wearing. It wasn’t torn, or dirty, or sticky, and there wasn’t any blood on the gloves. Even his makeup felt freshly applied! And the Mansfield girls all looked fresh as daisies.
The Golden Knight got up and made sure that everything was all right, and then called in the Police. SWAT, then the Police, and then a few parents and reporters came in and tried to make sense of things. Then the Knight got a message from Blue Streak that he and Captain Patriot needed help evacuating a burning building, and keeping the fire under control until the firefighters got there. The Knight, Violet, and Red Thunder lifted off to go support them.
It was a little chaotic for a bit. The kids insisted on hanging around until the rest of SPECTRUM returned, even after they gave their preliminary statements to the Police. They wanted their pictures taken with the SPECTRUM heroes; hey, as Dark Claw said, if it ain’t on camera, then it didn’t happen. “Silver Ghost!” One of the reporters asked, “WHY are you dressed as Supergirl?”
“What? It’s HALLOWEEN! I was on my way to a party! Speaking of which - if I’m not needed anymore - UP, UP, AND… HAPPY HALLOWEEN!” she lifted off in proper Supergirl fashion and flew through one of the holes in the roof.
Captain Patriot chuckled as Stacy disappeared into the night. He reached into his belt and produced a slip of paper, which he handed to the Green Witch. “Nice work with the talisman, Gee-Dubya. I wasn’t sure that it would work against your buddy’s rotting powers, and it was a little touch and go for a bit there. But it worked.” He patted down his limbs. “At least… I hope that it worked…”
“Not to worry, Cap,” Karen said distractedly. “Even if you had been affected by Quinn’s rot, Sobek washed it away, right along with all the rest of the evil in this immediate vicinity.”
“What’s the matter, Green?” Cap asked in a worried tone. “Is there something we forgot?” He looked around. Miss Seabury was being taken away for a few days close observation by the Department of Public Health. Dark Claw and his gang and the fallen Terror Legionnaires were being shelled out of their armor for transport to the county lockup. Various bits of technology and mystic equipage were being tagged and bagged. The kids were being loaded onto the school buses to be sent back to Mansfield to meet up with their parents. The only things left of the various manifestations and constructs were a few shreds of Terror Dog flesh here and there, and they were being bagged by the CSI people.
“No… it’s just… it’s just that there’s something wrong here.”
“It’s too SIMPLE! It’s too straightforward! There’s a shoe that hasn’t dropped, and it’s bugging the hell out of me!”
“You call this simple and straightforward?”
“For Lady Jettatura? YES! The bait kidnapping, the ambush, the Hobson’s choice, the multiple successive levels of surprise backup, that’s all to be expected. But there’s no ‘Gotcha!’ Lady Jettatura loves those nasty little last-minute surprises that get you just when you think that you’ve won and you’re letting your guard down, something that takes your victory and just shits all over it. And I don’t see that here. YET.”
“What about that sick trick with the mock children?”
“Oh, that’s Lady Jettatura all over… But it doesn’t have the ‘Gotcha!’ that I expect from her, that last vicious little twist of the knife…”
Then Detective Sergeant Fisk of the Cincinnati PD Paranormal Affairs Division brought over the ankh, the crocodile mask that Jasper’s body had been wearing, the small nasty ceramic idol, and Dark Claw’s gauntlet, all sealed in plastic bags. “Well, Witch-lady, looks like you got a few more goodies for your collection. We’ll take bad boy’s armor and the techno-junk for evidence, but there’s no way that we’re lettin’ this black magic crap in our evidence locker.”
Even through the mask that suggested shadowing of her hood, you could see the Green Witch’s eyes pop wide open. “That’s IT! THAT’S the Gotcha!”
Stacy was waiting for Lauren at Mansfield, hiding invisibly in the cloak room. As the kids boiled off the busses, making a joyful noise unto their delighted and relieved parents, Stacy popped out of the cloak room and pulled Lauren aside invisibly. They hurriedly swapped clothing, Stacy putting on the Xena costume and Lauren getting back into her Batgirl rig. “Did anyone notice that it was you in the Xena outfit?”
“Are you kidding? They were all so scared, they barely noticed if their best friend was there!”
“You were SO BRAVE to bop that devil creep with this chakram thing!”
“ME? YOU were the one who dropped on top of Miss Spookypants!”
“Yeah, but I got powers! All you had was a blunt metal Frisbee! If I was in the same position, I’d still be on the bus, sucking my thumb!”
“You’re too hard on yourself. Man, who’da thunk that Spenser Chase was such a badass?”
“Spense! What’s happening with Spense?”
Lauren let out an intrigued hmmm, and they went to see what was happening in the main ballroom. Spenser was very much the center of attention, and he was handling it with the sweeping élan of a grand dame. “There you are, Stacy! Since this place is technically now a crime scene, we’re moving the party over to MY place! Come on, the night is young, and it’s HALLOWEEN! We still have some serious partying to do!”
Spense offered her his arm and they swept out of the event room. As they passed Jennilee, looking rather wilted in her Silver Ghost costume, Stacy couldn’t help but snipe, “Nice costume…”
“And how is Seabury doing?” Dr. Merlin asked over the video conference link. Most mystical superheroes use either a metallic mask or helmet (ala Dr. Fate) or a hooded cape that somehow manages to consistently cast a shadow that obscures their features as a half-mask would, the turban having died a particularly nasty death in the 1960s. Dr. Merlin had both, and his mask was cast in the minimally expressive form of a bearded man.
“Hard to say. She’s been cleared of any trace of the rot, and she’s in a lot better shape than she might have been, because she ‘ate’ all that mock flesh, just before being cleansed. But she’s still had a very hard three years. Her hair’s totally gone, she only has three of her original teeth left, and I hate to think what shape her digestion’s in. But it’s her emotional state that worries me. After three years of being the monster, I don’t think that Quinn’s going to be the cocky occult investigator that we knew. Also, while I don’t know the details, her partners, Trowbridge and LeGrandine, haven’t been heard from in a while. I think that Jettatura got to them, too. Given what those two know about magic, the supernatural, occult investigation techniques in general, and occult investigators in particular, that could wind up being very nasty.”
“Has she told you if she has any plans?”
“Not yet. I’m going to offer her a place to stay, and the use of a healing spring that I know of. With her talent for healing magic, she just might make a comeback after all. Hey, this wouldn’t be the first time that she’s been counted as down and out, and sprung back.”
“I have a few elixirs that she might find useful,” Dr. Merlin offered. “I’ll ask around, and see if anyone knows anything about recuperative techniques for this sort of thing, or if they have any healing potions or what-all that might be useful. Seabury wasn’t exactly universally beloved, but she was a ‘member of the guild’, so to speak. And if we don’t look after each other-”
“-Who will?” Karen finished his rhetorical question for him. “Thanks, Merlin, but that wasn’t why I called you. I’ve got a real problem.” She described Dark Claw, and how easily she took his power item away from him. “Here’s the thing. Dark Claw is this local jumped-up freelance supervillain minion named Burt Steinmetz, AKA ‘Stone Cold Metal’ and a few other braindead monikers. Without the gauntlet, he was a total weenie, a kid sidekick could’a taken him out. The gauntlet was his payment for a raft of hideously illegal things that he did for Lady Jet. Which, unfortunately, we have only the word of a few of his flunkies that it even happened, so we can’t tack that onto the charges. So, why did Lady Jettatura pay a guttersucker like Dark Claw so much for so little? The gauntlet isn’t that much, just a low-to-midrange artifact, but it’s still a mystic artifact! You don’t give a freaking minion something like that, just for running a few errands!”
“You think that she’s pulling something?”
“I think that she wants me to put the gauntlet - and the idol, maybe; not sure about the crocodile mask or the ankh - into my vault. She’s got the hots to get into that vault like you wouldn’t believe! She was ready to feed most of metropolitan Cincinnati to the demon that killed Graywolf, just to get at it!”
Dr. Merlin gave an ‘ah’ of enlightenment. “I see! You think that the whole thing was a ruse to get you to put that gauntlet into your vault! You think that it has some sort of tracing charm worked into it?”
“Something like that. Or, the gauntlet’s a demon in a ‘zipped’ form, and under the right conditions it restores itself to its full form, grabs everything in the vault, and heads back to mama. OR, it joins with the Idol and our old buddy gets a second shot. OR, it joins with Dark Claw’s armor, or something else that’s already in my vault and same deal. Or something else that I haven’t thought of. So, I need some place to store both the gauntlet and the idol. My vault’s just too hot.
“And here’s the real thing, Merlin. It’s been a real boost to my ego, and it SEEMED like the responsible thing at the time, but I’m simply too minor league to be the keeper of some of the things that I’ve got in that vault. I’ve got no less than four artifacts made by Deicide in there! And Lady Jettatura’s not the first scumbag to make a run at that vault! I can’t risk it anymore. So, Merlin, do you know of any really secure - and I DO mean SECURE - locations where I can move this stuff?”
Dr. Merlin paused, as though taken aback. “What’s the matter with Whateley?”
“Whateley? What’s Whateley?”