I sat down with in the Hospital reception room for my afternoon tea. A bit of warmth to shake of the draftiness of the Spring rains that made themselves home with each opening and closing of the doors. My patient was welcomed by the nurse as he entered the front door. He was dressed in brown leather pilot's gear, and wore a winged jetpack on his back. He had already folded the wings down and inward with a switch in the back. He removed the straps and methodically folded and detached parts of the device so it could fit snugly in a canvas backpack he had kept dry under his coat. I was impressed by how well he had adapted to using such technology. He must have read the manual.
He brushed the mud off his boots and hung his jacket on the coat rack, to let the freshly oiled skins dry. It was a very new look for him to say the least. Only his sheer size and bold strides toward me hinted as to what he was.
"Dr. Mason!" He smiled as he rested his gloved hand on my shoulder, and patted my upper arm. I wasn't used to him showing signs of camaraderie. But seeing as how he was undergoing the most drastic transformation of his existence, I smiled gently. The nurse smiled with the faintest air of nervousness as she slipped upstairs, finishing her break early as I sat down with "a relative from out of town".
"Blood..." I caught myself. "Mr. Mason. Thank you for coming back. There is much to talk about."
He crossed his arms and leaned back, his more somber tone reminiscent of how he would distance himself from his troubles.
"Shall we start with the Edict? Let's get that out of the way first." He pulled off his pilot hat. His total baldness was still taking some getting used to. The unbuckled chinstraps dangled from the edge of the table.
I took a deep breath. I wanted to speak to him as a Doctor, not a City Councilor. But he seemed more concerned with this that whether he lived or died.
"Ash...I was not involved this decision. Even if I was asked I would have recused myself." He dark blue eyes, the very same as my own, looked back in silent disdain as I continued. The sky darkened outside as the sound of the rain grew louder.
"Caesar no longer rules Rome. Pharaoh no longer rules Egypt. And the Age of Steelwolf is over. It's a faded memory on the verge of being forgotten... like Ambertown. Half the residents don't even remember him now. It's only a matter of time before the Titles reflect this."
"A new Mayor..." He leaned forward to pour himself some tea. Another first, I believe.
"I spoke with him not long ago." He looked up. I continued.
"He is well...but he spends most of his time in that other Realm of magic we keep hearing about."
He set down his tea cup with a louder clink on the saucer than one should return it.
"I thought..." He pressed his hands together and rested his head over them in thought. "I thought he would return..."
I shook my head. "It does not seem so."
There was a long pause. Ash grit his teeth as he pressed his hands more tightly. The air grew colder and damp from the deluge outside.
"Then it was all for nothing.." His voice trailed off as his whole body tensed. What could I do to console him as one more piece of his world fell apart? I quickly changed the subject, hoping his new form wasn't proe to the hour-long rants I used to suffer through at the Foundation and still found annoying even when the Spark overtook me. I opened my satchel and presented him with a metal band, imprinted with the caduceus and a row of glass tubes filled with green fluid that streamed tiny bubbles as it was tilted when carried.
"This is for you," He accepted the armband, and examined the vials fitted in the chambers. "the anti-toxins will keep your body from trying to reject your organs...and vice versa. There's enough in there for you to go a month without returning to me, instead of every day." I was disappointed in the results of my heroic measures. I had been certain the demon could accept tissue from the Host. But something had changed in him. We were no longer fully compatible, referring of course to the strictest biological sense of the word.
I helped him cinch the band snugly over his arm, and demonstrated how to operate the device. There was faint hiss of air pressure as he pressed the button, self-injectors delivered another administered dose, one more in a pattern he must continue for the rest of his supposedly "natural" life.
"We need to find our Steel," he was referring to the prodigal Qlippothic that was the cause of his recent fall, "she is the only one who can operate the device now." I nodded. He seemed to have forgiven, or at least set aside, the misunderstanding that brought him here. Would they ever forgive each other, I wondered?
"There's something else, Ash...the remains." He leaned in as I lowered my voice to a whisper. "We know magic and radiation don't mix. But that crate is giving off energies of the like I've never seen before. I'm not even sure if my scanning equipment can handle..." He rested both of his large hands on my shoulders.
"Darien...listen to me. What is forming in that box is too toxic to keep in this Age. The catalyst for it becoming an uncontrollable abomination is for someone to gaze upon it. Even your attempt to make a silhouette of it may awaken it." I nodded faintly as I listened.
"In Erebus we called such things Pandorans. Their existence defies the eternal order of things. The Titans imprisoned below Hades were born of such catastrophes," He looked down and shook his head. "It could be the next Hydra."
That was all the impetus I needed. "I can take it with me on board the Gygax, and project it towards the Sun once I'm in deep space before we warp into the Void." I turned my head slightly, noting the rain was no longer part of the background noise.
"That would work." Ash stood. "Thank you for the tea. I am off to get more supplies..." He looked up as he strapped his pilot's hat back on. "And...thank you."
I took a deep breath. This was the first time he showed me any gratitude for saving his life.
"Ash," I said as I stood up, stopping him as he was halfway through the door, "what shall I tell the Council?"
His eyes ran through the range of emotions in a matter of seconds. I saw him relive the shock of the news. I saw anger, but nothing like the Rage he had just embraced on the disastrous path that brought him to my operating theatre. I saw worry. And finally, resignation.
"I accept their decision. To do anything else would risk my Legacy to you and...our children. The sins of the fathers shall not be visited upon the sons." He lifted the winged jetpack out of his backpack and quickly reattached the components he had secret away in the side pockets.
"This is a large world with much to explore. I have only seen it as an itinerary of one warm body after another." I'm sure he was referring to more than the descendants he'd possessed. He slid his arms into the straps of the contraption and pulled the beltloops tight.
"Much can change in a year and a day. By then the Founder may fade to legend, but Ash Mason's reputation will speak proudly for itself." He looked up from the doorway, out towards the sky as the sun's rays finally shone through between clouds. The damp air, now clean of the black smoke from the factory, made the sunlight that struck the engine of his device brightly reflect the images inside.
"To the darkened skies once more, and ever onward..." He was still quoting his favorite poets, even as his sets of mechanical wings turned and locked into place while he made his way down the steps. He secured the goggles over his eyes, and in a plume of white smoke he rose skyward on wings not his own.