Friday, October 18

burn the skies

Were this another battle, the Founder would have torn the airship pilot open to make an example of him, but time was of the essence. The look of terror on the mortal's face as he grabbed him by his lapels, and his pitiful scream and the demon threw him out into the subzero mists would have to suffice.

The machines of this age frustrated him. The ship's wheel was familiar enough. The levers and switches, however...

"One flying beast to another...how do you dive?" A pallid hand tapped a series of levers until he wrapped it around the black knob closest to the wheel.

"Down, beast!" He pushed with such force that the lever snapped. He felt the vibrations in the floor rattle clear up his spine as gears shattered against the paneling below deck. The dirigible lurched forward, and its nose tipped into the mists. The cabin windows clouded over with maddening spiderwebs of frost. Like an army of ghosts the icy vapors howled as they rushed into the cabin where the door had been, encircling the demon.

"The fury of the sun...trapped in an orb of a thousand winters, now shattered..."

He was interrupted by the uncontrolled chattering of his own teeth. He felt a tingling, a sickness hanging in the mists. A sickness that wilted the powers waiting just beyond the veil.

"The bomb that Darien warned me about. Yes...it poisons the air..." He frowned. He had once been entombed in ice as punishment for squandering love. He had once lost his wings and his might when his dying organs were replaced with those grown for his human progeny, to the point that he was in all respects mortal...and helpless. Now he stood to suffer both catastrophes at once...and then be destroyed by the Fires of Apollo in another crater.

He glanced at one of the dials, wiping the frost off the glass cover. It seemed to say they were already below the ground level before the glass shattered.

"This is the end of enough! I saw this city fall the first time and I'll not see it fall again! The fools know not what is still buried beneath this pit waiting to arise and again consume this world!"

To Bloodwing, the fallout from the Reality Enforcement Device seemed like a thickening layer of grime that obscured the glowing runes engraved in his psyche, the ancient Ereb'ai script that when uttered with proper diction and force of will unleashes the chaos of the underworld. He fought the growing numbness to curl his fingers in an arcane gesture. It was the first spell he had learned as a child...it should not be this heard, he thought...

"FIRE!"

He smiled as blue flame danced around his arm. All turned bright in a deafening roar.


Koen clutched Ash's emerald disc so tightly the blade dug into the palm of his hand. The muscles in that hand itched as he heard Ash's voice in his mind, attempting to calm him as the ice crystal surrounding their force bubble gave way to billowing flames. Koen's young battalion clustered even tighter around him, to the point where he battled to draw every breath.

[[It is most fortunate for you and your companions that hydrogen flames are orange, and not yellow.]]


As the sky over the crater blossomed in orange flames, Darien fell back as the ice fell from his clothes in huge chunks. When the ice from his goggles evaporated he saw Yagi was already on her tip-toes reaching into the circuitry of Hans' massive suit of powered armor.

Of course, he thought. This whole time no one had realized she was a shoggoth when they brought her (in her previously amorphous shape) to the Steamlands from Antarctica. She was the only organic in the entire crater who didn't need some form of protection from the inhospitable temperatures.

He immediately realized that the blanket of flames that stretched across the dome of the crater was descending. It had already engulfed the spot of high ground where Koen and his child soldiers had sought shelter. The flames were rolling down in his direction.

"Oh dear G-d, no..."

He sprinted to where the two girls, Sprog and Blue, had just been thawed by the searing heat. He gathered them close and fell over them, using his own body as a shield as the inferno claimed everything.


Thursday, October 10

taken to task

Everything was still in the crater, where the temperature had fallen to levels only seen on the polar ice caps. Everything, that is, except the robotic spider climbing over a dome of ice that softly radiated an emerald light, within which Koen and his feral pack of young survivors huddled for protection from the elements.

The spider leaped off the dome and landed on the rocks below. The brain floating in the cylinder mounted on the spider swirled about when it landed, and the spindly metallic legs meandered back and forth as the jar tilted this way and that.

"ACH!" shouted Hans' voice through a hissing speaker. "I can feel the cold even through this thing! I've got to get out of here!" The pair of eyes connected to the brain aimed downwards towards a small bulb on the spider's frame.

"The compass is frozen!"

Hans skittered one way in one direction, and then the other. He stopped to look up at Dr. Mason where he was frozen in place, reaching for the control panel of the villain's former exoskeleton.

"Obviously I've been here before..."

Hans scrambled closer to Dr. Mason and lifted a needle-like limb to tap at the weapon fused to Darien's hand.

"Bastard! He used it all! I'll have to steal his formula at the Consulate!"

Dr. Mason would have roared in outrage if his mouth was not sealed shut. But Hans scrambled away, humming some half-remembered Yuletide carols horribly out of tune. He paused for a moment to wonder at the faint golden aura in the haze before him.

"Is that sunlight? I must be closer to the rim than I..."

He was interrupted by the emaciated and jaundiced boy wrapped in tatters that lunged at him with bestial hunger, clutching a radiant yellow disk in his hand.

"AHHHHH!" Hans screamed as Ryan wrapped his free arm around Hans' brain jar. Elongated and narrowed teeth snapped at the glass.

"GET OFF ME!" The thing's metallic limbs flexed and stabbed at the boy, piercing the flesh and even poking through the over side of his body in several places. The boy did not seem to notice. A scornful voice pierced the villain's brain.

((What was that about hurting children, Cold Dead Hans?))

Ryan raised the disc and swiped downwards, shearing off one of the limbs. Hans screamed pitifully as the boy scraped off more pieces of what Hans had dubbed his Cerebral Escape Unit.

((You've ruined EVERYTHING, Hans! You were supposed to CAPTURE the city, not DESTROY it!))

"MARCUS! But I never INTENDED to..."

((That only makes it WORSE! That proves it. Darien was right for once, wasn't he? You DIDN'T invent that reactor! You STOLE it out of the timestream. A DEFECTIVE one at that!))

Ryan began slamming the disc against the jar, creating a shower of sparks with each strike.

"STOP THAT!!!" Disembodied eyes refocused at the faint scratches left in the glass.

((Oh don't worry Hans. You won't freeze solid when this undead child opens your container. He's going to gulp you down like a fresh Babbage oyster. Not that I've ever eaten any myself...but I digress. I'm going to LOVE reading your thoughts and memories as your brain is torn apart and digested. I might even find something USEFUL in your skills-RNA.  Starting of course with the combination to shutting down that accursed reactor...))

"NOOOO!!!" he screamed. "It's FIVE ONE NINE SIX! Five one nine six I tell you! PLEASE! Please don't let him eat me! I'm begging..."

((Did you get that, Darien?))

((Yes,)) His brother silently signaled back. ((Thank you. I owe you one. That is if you can melt this ice...))

((Oh, that won't be necessary. BOY. You need to pick the jar up with both hands and smash it on the ground to open it up. You want that juicy brain don't you? Now just put me down...))

Ryan hurriedly dropped the disk and hefted the damaged Escape Unit over his head. Before he could hurl the device, both the boy and the brain froze in place.

((Things are going to get warm soon enough, dear brother.))

The disk wobbled back onto its side and began rolling away.

((Soon enough...))


Above the freezing mists of the crater, a figure with great crimson wings ripped the metal door off the cab of the dirigible. The pilot screamed as he was hurled out of the craft.


The faint droning sound of the airship overhead that was a constant presence before grew quickly louder.

Koen looked up in alarm as a plummeting metal door smashed against the ice dome. Even as his companions squeezed him tightly in panic, the energy of Ash's disc caused the jagged shards and the mutilated door itself to bounce effortlessly off the shimmering sphere surrounding them.

Darien tried to raise an eyebrow as a thoroughly frozen body fell several yards away and shattered. Such a waste, he thought.

Koen tried his best to calm down his companions.

"We're gonna be alright guys! We're gonna be..." His feline eyes narrowed as the nose cone of the dirigible emerged from the fog of ice. flames danced across the surface of the fabric.

"Hans, you hack!" thought Darien. "You didn't even use a cavorite airship, did you? You probably filled it with helium or..."

"OH HOLY SHIT TAKE COVER!" screamed Koen as the airship burst into flames with a deafening roar.

"...hydrogen. Of course it would have to be hydrogen..."




Monday, October 7

entombed

The Founder's order rattled my brain within its skull, granting me a few more seconds of consciousness in this freezing hell. He was right, of course. I can't forget what happened the last time one of us smashed a reactor core. I lowered Blue's axe. There had to be another way to stop the reactor in Hans' abandoned chassis from detonating.

I had to wait for one of the young tribals to capture what was left of Hans and somehow extract the code. But the ice crystals were so thick in the air now that I could only see a few yards in any direction. I was certain to freeze to death. Unless...

I drew my inoculation gun from its holster and pressed the nozzle to my left arm. I swore I would never use the reanimation serum on myself again. Not after I nearly turned into...something like Yoggy. But the serum prevents the blood from freezing. I remembered that very well from reanimating Wren.

A kick like a mule. The burn of reverse-frostbite. I quickly turned and fired the last two doses into Sprog and Blue. I heard them wail, but at least it meant they were still alive. My movement abruptly slowed to a crawl as my clothing grew heavy from accumulating layers of ice. My fingers were inches away from the digital keypad of Hans' stolen invention. But it may as well have been on the other side of the galaxy. I would not freeze for several hours with the reanimation serum in my veins. But nonetheless I was powerless, as the crystals that had gathered on my clothing grew so heavy and thick I could no longer break them off with the flat of Blue's weapon. First my legs were pinned. Then my arms. Soon I was reduced to viewing the world past my goggles in a thick and unyielding layer of ice!

Sunday, September 22

deep freeze

My foe, a cybernetic madman you called himself Cold Dead Hans, faced me down in this crater where the civilization that preceded New Babbage met its end. Now, after several interruptions, Hans had me in a death grip...just as the power core that moves his massive frame suffered a breach.

The blue orb spewing a fountain of frost into the air was a cold fusion reactor. It is something alien to this time and place where Steam works miracles. My son Koen escaped from the Wastelands, where the remains of dead cities are laid to rest, to tell me that this is the very event that would wipe the smog-shrouded metropolis of New Babbage off the map if we do not stop it. If we did not freeze to death first.

Hans had a backup plan should his juggernaut frame have just this sort of failure. Koen's young companions were desperately chasing down Hans's brain jar that grew spidery legs and scuttled away. I stared at the blinking device that controlled the core. Not a gear in sight.

Blue and Sprog were still following me closely as Koen had ordered. But a white fog was blurring away the landscape. The Wastelands they came from was a radioactive desert. The poor girls had never known even a mild day in their short and desperate lives, much less the glacial temperatures that were expanding out from where we stood. Before I even turned to check on them they had already collapsed from the cold.

I was sweating profusely in my old army uniform before all this madness took place. It bore me perhaps a few precious moments of insulation before I would freeze solid. I reached down and lifted Blue's rust-pitted axe from where she had dropped it. I raised it high, preparing to smash the controls. Cut the wires. Something.

Just as I prepared to strike, a shadow passed over me. I felt a chill in my soul that not even absolute zero could inflict upon me. I knew that feeling before, several times. A feeling like you're a marionette and a puppeteer is not manipulating you, but brutishly seizing your strings to rip you away from the script you had planned.  Yes, it was the Founder of the Mason line. Bloodwing had shouted an order in my brain that made me drop the axe and scream in agony.

"STOP!"

Thursday, September 12

before hell freezes over

Cold Dead Hans gloated as I dangled helplessly several feet from the ground in his iron grip. The haze of cold that poured out of him onto the ground grew even thicker.

"I will not turn the screamer machine on again, Doctor Mason...because I want to hear you plead for your life before I CRUSH it out of you! And if your little friends think they can swarm me again..."

As I was noticing a thin web of frost stretch up the struts of his arm, a sword blade sprung from the wrist in his other hand. One of those wavy two-handed models.

"Hans. Listen to me carefully..." I struggled to keep my head up and not pass out as I fought for every ragged breath that exhaled as a white cloud. "Your reactor is faulty. If you don't power down immediately this entire region..."

"SILENCE!"  He shook me so hard my neck nearly snapped. My goggles were beginning to frost over as well.

"Even now you try to ferret your way out of you doom!"

I think he meant "weasel".

"Look up!" He lifted me high into the air as I heard a pop and a hiss below me.  "Look up so my airship crew can capture your face one last time before..."

His diatribe was drowned out by the rush of white gas blossoming from his back. His grip relaxed and I fell to the ground.

"Damn you, Hans! I warned you! Somebody help me up!"

Koen reached under my shoulders and scooped me back to my feet, ushering me to the flashing blue orb in the chest cavity of Hans' great failing frame. Recalling what I read of his blueprints, I flipped open the hinged black metal box under which the knife switch to shut down the reactor was meant to reside. However...

"What the hell is this?" I squinted at the squares of off-white plastic inlayed on chrome, and the blinking red lines in a small glass bar above them.

"That's a digital keypad, Dad..."

"DIGITAL?!? HANS! This isn't Steamlands technology! Is this reactor even from..."

As I shouted at his brain-jar, the cylinder suddenly spun in its casing. An array of long, thin spikes of metal expanded from the collar and bent on smooth joints downward until they latched onto the beams where the neck met the shoulders. The joints flexed and smoothly lifted the brain jar from its housing.

"Now how come I never thought of that...?"

I heard the rip of a needle digging into a wax disc that began to spin in the base of the jar, and a tinny echo of his previously booming voice hissed through static. "We shall meet again, Doctor. If you survive, that is."

With slightly less coordination than I would expect, the jar - brain and all - scuttled like a crab off his shoulders until it dropped to the ground.

"CATCH HIM!" I screamed. "We need the code to power down this reactor or New Babbage is DOOMED!"

Koen bolted after him, leaving me to fall to the now-frozen ground as his small army rushed behind.

"Ouch..."

Tuesday, September 10

clash of the lanterns

I expected something dramatic when I invoked the power of the disc. A sudden change of costume, verdant explosion of fireworks, anything really. But no, I was just standing there using all my strength to keep my son's very heavy mechanical hand lifted towards my brother, who floated in in aura of sickly yellow fear.

Marcus scoffed. "You? A Green Lantern? Ludicrous! You think any fool can just pick up a power ring and..."

Somehow I found the strength to raise my arm and fire an emerald bolt from my power disc. It went a bit wide, missing him by inches.

Some cautious applause rose from the young savages behind me.

"You were saying?"

He grit his teeth as he hovered closer.

"Perhaps you have a drop of Will, but your skills are poor. Not that your green ring could even effect..."

My arm jerked to the side. The disc spread an arc of light and a duplicate of the mechanical claw Ash had used solidified again. With a shriek of simulated hinges the claw rotated and clamped down on a fallen column massive enough to support the Babbage Town Hall. My arm flailed back in Marcus' direction, slamming down where Marcus was levitating with such force that the ground trembled and threw up clouds of dust.

I pushed the opening to my gas mask over my face with my free hand as I heard the young ones coughing behind me.

"Yes, the green light can't affect the yellow light. I know this. We have a Justice League in Steelhead, you know! But you're still susceptible to very large blocks of stone, as you can see!"

I heard one of the tykes calling out between coughs. "E' went poof! Jus' like when he trew 'is frisbee at th' green bot! All was lef' was his..."

I stared in disbelief at the gauntlet as I held it to my chest. Whatever just happened, it was not my doing. Either my subconscious is a force in itself or...

The index finger of the gauntlet began stretching and contracting by itself. It tapped the disc it held tightly. Morse code...?

With a deafening crack the column snapped in half. The section further from us slowly rolled away into a ravine. His glowing outline was visible through the settling dust.

"Nice try, Darien."

"Oh SHUT UP you lunatic!" With a mighty spin of my arm (which I am certain strained every muscle I had on the right side of my body) I hurled the emerald disc at Marcus. He flinched, and blinked to the other side of his own golden disc. We both watched the bright green artifact crash on the other side of the ravine. I thorough down the gauntlet (literally and figuratively in this case) and threw down my gas mask as well.

"I don't even NEED a radioactive pie tin to deal with YOU, Marcus!"

A chorus of "DAY-UM!" giggled behind me.

"I refuse to be a pawn in some extraterrestrial wargame!" I continued. I tried to point at him, but my right arm aching and slow to respond. I used my left finger instead.

"Put down that PISS-STAINED TOILET SEAT and fight like a MAN!"

I heard collective gasps, followed by laughter. I turned around grinning to see the feral tykes clutching their sides, rolling in the dirt with beet-red faces and screaming incomprehensible things like "LAWL" and "ROFFLE-MAU". They seemed to have dropped Koen, but from what I could see of the rise and fall of his chest, his breath was strong, but irregular.

"Oh Bast...It hurts when I laugh! Oh! Oh! Hee-hee! You owned him Dad!"

"DARIEN!!!"

I cast Marcus a sidelong glance. Indeed, his body seemed to be flickering. Even transparent.

"Oh, I forgot," I interrupted, "you CAN'T fight man-to-man because you're just a GHOST! You trapped your OWN SOUL in that disc, didn't you? You're not even really HERE! You're just projecting an ILLUSION of yourself from the disc! YOU ARE THE DISC! YOU'RE A PISS-STAINED TOILET SEAT!"

That's when the taunting started. "Toilet seat! Toilet seat! Marcus is a toilet seat!"

He seemed to having even worse trouble keeping his posture than I did. The disc was wobbling and inverting Marcus' image for a few instants. "STOP! STOP THIS! I'LL DESTROY..."

"Your nursery rhymes won't scare anyone! No one here is even AFRAID of you! Did you hear me you BAT-SHIT BELHAVEN BUFFOON?"

With that, the figure in yellow circuitry popped with a with a flash, like one of Mr. Edison's failed light-bulb experiments. His disc clattered down the ridges of the column he had sliced open and finally lodged in the gravel below.

Koen rose slowly to his feet. "Nice job...how'd you do it?"

"Well, the Yellow Lantern Corps, as I understood it, draw their power from the fear in others around them. We have demons in the family tree, so you know how these emotion-eaters work... I just used our instinctual sibling rivalry to degrade him to the point where even the children weren't afraid of him anymore. No fear, no power."

Miss Lacroix raised her rusted axe, pointing upwards and behind me.

"Are we still s'posed t'be afraid of HIM?"

A huge metal claw wrapped around my torso, pinning my arms to my sides. Cold Dead Hans bent his wrist inwards to pull me up and stare at me with widening metal irises through his brain-jar.

"Yeeees...yes you should..."

Sunday, September 8

Mason vs. Mason

Marcus Gabriel Mason. The brother I had grown up never knowing about. Like myself, a clone of my father Jeremiah. As bizarre as my upbringing was, I was the control for my father's unspeakable experiments upon him. Like myself, he had the Spark to build powerful devices by instinct, as well as the occult know-how to unleash dangerous magic.

The results of my father's experiments were truly terrifying. He had the ability to possess any living thing or machine. And unlike me, he was completely devoid of conscience. Even my father in his madness sought fit to destroy him for being too powerful for him to control. In my brother's twisted yet brilliant mind the world - and especially his family - had betrayed him, and revenge was his to take.

The Wastelands children crowded behind me. A few of them carried Koen on their backs, using his hoverboard as a stretcher. They were terrified, yes, and I could feel Marcus drawing power from their fear. However, they also kept the will to stand together.

"So you've met Cold Dead Hans, I see? I recognize him from the roster. There's an exception for family grudges in the Guild rules, so they'll probably give him a mulligan. Maybe he can take on Baron Wulfenbach or the Caledon Catgirl Air Corps..."

Yagi rose up behind the crumbling wall holding the dimensional conduit above her head. She aimed it towards us, using the medusa-like alteration of her hair to keep it balanced.

"YAGI! No! That won't..."

She flipped the switch and the brilliance of a searchlight shone on Marcus. He screamed! He was fighting the pull of the conduit switched in reverse! But that shouldn't have worked. He was native to the Steamlands, so there would be no attraction back to the Digital Grid unless...

A stream of light spread from Marcus's disc to create a massive floating tool composed of solid yellow light. I could swear it was a giant spatula!

"You want to send someone home? Here! One short stack of Green Lantern SCRAP!"

The tool ground deep into the gravel under where Ash's unpowered form lay. The child-army behind me covered their faces and I dove for cover as a shower of small sharp rocks went flying everywhere.

"ORDER UP!"

Yagi screamed Ash's name as she released her tentacled hold on the conduit. I could not tell if the device was powered down as it was facing the ground, but Ash smashed into it and shattered it like a huge mirror.

"Well that was easy!" he chuckled. He floated back towards the children as the shining implement faded to nothingness behind him.

"Alright, where's Darien? Cough him up! Is he hiding under that board?"

"No you fool! I'm right here!"

I had thrust my own arm into the shell of Ash's severed forearm, wearing it as a gauntlet. I had seen enough to recognize how the disc worked. I held the alien artifact high as I improvised an Oath of my own:

Emerald Disc of shining force
By Will I tap your power source
To vanquish foes without remorse
By GREEN LANTERN'S LIGHT, of course!