[ASH] ASH #50 - World On A String
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Sat Jul 17 22:05:32 PDT 2004
//|| //^^\\ || || .|. COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
// || \\ || || --X---------------------------------------------
//======================= '|` ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #50
// || \\ || || World on a String
// || \\__// || || Copyright 2004 by Dave Van Domelen
Tony Pi, Mike Escutia and Joe Singleton
[cover looks like a giant snakepit seen from above, but there are
no heads or tails, just endless, undulating body. Tiny against
the massive serpentine form are members of ASH, EUROPA, The
Righteous Flame, STRAFE, the NAC Marshals, and others.]
SPECIAL! Full-Color Cover by Joe Singleton! The first file
is about 250K, the second is a little smaller, 200K.
ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL
CODENAME REAL NAME POWERS STATUS
-------- --------- ------ ------
Solar Max Jonathan Zachary Spacetime Control ACTIVE
Comet Sarah Grant-Taylor Superspeed, Ice Body ACTIVE
Green Knight Salvatore Napier Strength, Regeneration ACTIVE
Contact Aaron Zander Psi, Mind-over-Body ACTIVE
Scorch Scott Handleman Pyrokinetic ACTIVE
Beacon George Sylvester Living Light ACTIVE
Essay Sara Ana Rodriguez Gadgeteer ACTIVE
Peregryn Howard Henderson Jr. Elemental Mage ACTIVE
Lightfoot Tom Dodson Velocity Control ACTIVE
Breaker Christina Li Telekinesis ACTIVE
Fury Arin Kelsey Concussion Blasts ACTIVE
[August 26, 2025 - Washington, Federal Sector]
"Gentlemen, I don't know what Q'Nos is trying to summon up from the pits
of Tartarus, but rest assured that it will be BIG," Peregryn addressed the
assembly of heroes, generals and politicians. He was becoming more familiar
with the Federal Sector than he really wished to, of late. "Beacon's
Magellan hypothesis seems to be borne out by my research...Magellan was being
guided by some mystic force to trace out a specific path around the world,
called to by someone...or some THING, more likely...that desired freedom from
the pocket reality of Tartarus. And Q'Nos is listening to that same call."
Colonel Hendrick, present by special invitation, nodded. "And all his
strange strategic moves lately make sense. He's not trying to pull off a
conventional conquest, he's looking to free some sort of demonic superweapon
that will win him the world in one shot."
The wall display of the world had numerous islands lit up in various
shades of red through yellow, and a bright green line indicating Magellan's
journey superimposed over them. General Davis stood and walked over to the
"Some of the targets don't fit the Magellan path, but as Beacon pointed
out at an earlier meeting, Magellan may have deliberately gotten himself
killed here," he gestured at the Phillipines, "in order to stop the ritual.
The path certainly breaks away after their intended destination in the
Moluccas of Indonesia, coming nowhere near the Seychelles, Zanzibar or
Socotra, which we know have been compromised. And, of course, the
Mediterranean was never on his path, since it would be a while before there
was a canal for him to take," the general chuckled grimly. "Our official
slice of the line is fairly small, all things considered. I'd like ASH to
split up to deal with Tierra del Fuego, Pukapuka Island and Guam," he pointed
at the three places, which obligingly gained blue halos.
"Unofficially, China has jurisdiction over Singapore and the
Phillipines, but their southern territories recently broke away into a polity
calling itself the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization...yes, a new SEATO.
SEATO is appealing to the North American Combine for help, but so far we've
been deflecting their requests to the United World. It's likely that STRAFE
will be tasked with defending some of SEATO territory, possibly Singapore due
to their previous experience with that island state. The remainder of the
path is firmly under the aegis of the EU and the Moslem Confederation, who
have both stated their intent and ability to deal with this issue."
Chancellor Stockwell cleared his throat. "For future reference, and
this is not to leave this room, but Khadam has 'generously' offered to help
deal with the situation in the Mediterranean, at least as pertains to Malta
and Ibiza. They're being told to back off, but analysis suggests they
"Fine," General Davis nodded. "Hopefully Khadam will put stopping Q'Nos
ahead of grabbing territory themselves, but that's an issue to deal with
after Q'Nos has been stopped. Peregryn, how do we stop this ritual?"
The young mage steepled his fingers in front of his shadowed face and
sighed. "We may not be able to. Q'Nos is likely using a connection to his
minions to establish a sort of sympathetic chain from island to island, then
he'll rattle this chain to rip open the barriers between our world and
Tartarus. If we can remove his influence from enough locations before he's
ready, it *might* stop him from casting the spell. On the other hand, he may
merely need to have had them on the islands at all, in which case we'd need
to ritually cleanse the locations before they'd cease to be of use to him."
"So, we're screwed," Chancellor Stockwell snarled, exhibiting a flash of
the temper that had nearly cost him the election three years ago.
"Perhaps," Peregryn admitted. "Much of it depends on what emerges from
the rift, and where it emerges. I have an idea for a way to force it back
through the rift after the spell is complete, turning much of the power Q'Nos
is gathering back upon itself. But it will require waiting until he starts
his own ritual, and if the freed beast is allowed to wander too far from the
rift before I finish my counter-ritual, I will not be able to force it back
through. If you cannot stop the ritual, you must contain the results until I
can act. And you must impress on the other world powers the importance of
this as well...contain the beast at all costs!"
* * * *
[Guam, Pacific State]
George didn't wait for the suborbital shell to drop to a safe external
temperature, he blew the emergency seals and flew out onto the airfield. The
heat bothered him, but cautious testing with Scott had taught him that it
took a lot of heat to actually harm him. And time was of the essence. He
wished he hadn't needed the suborbital, but he hadn't yet figured out how to
exceed 300 meters per second without starting to dissipate.
"Mr. Sylvester," a hispanic-looking woman in Major's insignia nodded to
him as he landed at the edge of the landing area. "Or should I call you
"I've decided to go by Beacon, Major...?"
"Padilla," she replied. "Wasn't Beacon the name of a TwenCen hero?"
"Yes, it was, Major Padilla. I figured it was only fair turnabout to
take a body from Doublecross's forces and use it to redeem the name he'd
sullied thirty years ago."
Padilla's eyebrow quirked at the use of the word "sullied," but she
didn't comment on it. "Very good, Beacon. If you'll come this way, I'll
show you where we think the Wardogs are right now..."
* * * *
[Tierra del Fuego, South American Protectorate]
"Tierra del Fuego my rapidly freezing culo!" Essay snarled as she led
the way with her scanners. Scorch flew overhead, but was keeping his flames
as muted as possible so as to avoid interfering with Essay. Sal and Arin
flanked her, the trio moving slowly over the hard-frozen ground. "What
genius picked THAT name?"
"Magellan," Sal shrugged. "Named it after all the campfires he saw
while sailing past...the locals didn't think it was terribly warm either.
Although," he added thoughtfully, "the ultraviolet levels around here are so
high that the few people who do still live here need to wear hats and
sunglasses on even a cold and dreary winter day such as this. Different kind
of fire, now."
"I'm getting a reading, everyone," Essay cautioned, pointing towards a
small pool behind, of all things, a beaver dam.
"There's something metal down there," Scorch noted over comlink. "Looks
As if realizing it had been discovered, the creature in the beaverpond
uncoiled its body violently, sending ice, gray water and muddy snow in all
directions. It was an immense clockwork dragon with numerous serpentine
necks...and atop one of those necks was a living head that was a blasphemous
cross between the head of a serpent and that of a human infant.
"I am the immortal hydra!" the living head cackled while the mechanical
jaws of its fellow heads gnashed threateningly. "I cannot be slain, I cannot
be defeated!" The color of madness infused its every word.
Scorch and Fury answered with bursts of energy, but their attacks were
intercepted by the secondary heads and largely deflected.
"Let's see how you like my haywire grenades, tick-tock!" Essay shouted,
hurling a pair of small cylinders at the clockwork hydra. On impact, they
burst into manic swirls of fine wire. Designed to entangle non-powered
opponents, they worked as Essay had hoped...the wires were quickly sucked
into the whirring gears and shafts of the mechanical monster, where they
Seeing an opening, the Green Knight jumped up and grabbed the living
head of the beast. Ignoring the jaws that were starting to clamp down on him
from all sides, he gave the head a mighty twist, a pull, and then dropped to
the ground as the head came free and its mechanical body fell limp.
"I cannot be killed!" the head raved. "Even Heracles failed to slay
"But he did bury you under a rock, I seem to recall," Fury smirked as
she approached. "Essay, you got any of that quick-hardening riot foam?"
* * * *
[Pukapuka Island, Pacific State]
"Wow...the French weren't far off when they called this cluster the
Disappointment Islands," Lightfoot commented as he set the helijet down on
the beach of the small atoll. "I've seen larger college campuses than
"At least it'll be easier to find Q'Nos's forces and fight them,"
Contact observed. "No people...at least, not since 1998 or so."
There was a moment of silence at that. Pukapuka had never been teeming
with people, rarely exceeding 200 residents. But they'd all vanished some
time between July 1998 and the next contact with the island in 2004. By that
time, France had ceded all claims to the Tuamoto Archipelago and the rest of
French Polynesia, and the growing North American Combine had simply gobbled
the territory up.
Breaker, Comet, Lightfoot and Contact exited the Helijet and scanned the
800 hectare atoll. Aside from a few flattened buildings, victims of some
hurricane or other, there was no sign of human habitation. A grove of banana
"trees" occupied one corner of the atoll, but the rest of Pukapuka had
returned to the hardy salt-resistant scrub that tended to characterize small
"Why, exactly, did Solar Max decide this little dot on the map needed
four of us?" Breaker asked.
"A hunch, more or less," Comet shrugged. "This was the first land
Magellan sighted after leaving South America, it's probably just seething
with mystic resonance. And since it's so isolated, Q'Nos could have inserted
massive forces without anyone noticing."
"I'm picking up some muted thoughts coming from the banana grove,"
Contact squinted through his goggles. "Animal-level. Probably birds,
"But what?" Comet asked.
"Birds generally don't radiate quite so much *hate*," Contact answered.
"Sometimes they do, I mean, but this is pretty intense."
Suddenly, a flock of birds erupted from the concealment of the banana
plants. They shone brightly in the morning sun, as if their feathers were
forged from steel.
Breaker immediately threw up a shimmering golden dome of telekinetic
force, just in time to deflect a hail of feathers that the birds loosed upon
them. "Stymphalian birds," she snarled. "I guess Hercules didn't get 'em
all," she added in a mutter.
The others nodded silent agreement. Reading up on monsters of Greek
myth had become almost mandatory for the team, in light of the forces Q'Nos
had been gathering in Shattered Hellas. And the Labors of Hercules were full
of nasty monsters.
Feathers now rained down on the Helijet, but it was sufficiently armored
that the birds were only ruining the paint job. Still, they'd have to
inspect the intakes very carefully before trying to take off.
"Breaker, keep up the umbrella. Contact, give us some fist-sized rocks,
if you will?" Comet ordered.
The psi nodded and jogged over to a largish coral boulder, sizing it up
for a moment before bringing his fist down with a loud KRAK! The boulder
split into hundreds of pieces of various sizes. "I'll take the larger
chunks," he grinned.
Between the Mach-speed throwing arms of the two speedsters and Contact's
immense strength, soon the skies were almost empty of the steel-feathered
birds. The few that remained, however, continued to dip and swirl and circle
defiantly, and it was much harder to hit dispersed targets.
Until, of course, Breaker dropped the protective shield and just grabbed
the handful of remaining birds in cocoons of golden light.
"Okay," Comet shrugged for the second time that morning. "Maybe it WAS
overkill to send all of us."
* * * *
[Edwards Air Force Base, California Sector]
"I'll try to keep up, but I might have to go into low orbit to do so,"
Solar Max warned. "Even in my exo-armor, my aerodynamics aren't up to high
Mach in the atmosphere. Are you sure you don't want to do this up in orbit?"
Peregryn shook his head as he doublechecked his flight suit, making sure
he had all the necessary ingredients and objects. Things for helping with
the ritual, things for helping survive after casting the spell. And,
incongruously, a hastily cobbled-together pair of patchwork leather boots.
"Q'Nos is girdling the world by land and sea for his ritual. I need to
take the third sphere, the air, to cast my counterspell. By following the
path of the Lucky Lady II, the first airplane to circumnavigate the planet
without landing, I should be able to...hijack...part of his own ritual. But
I must be at approximately the same altitude as that B-29. Orbit will not
do. Hopefully he has not anticipated this possibility and placed defenses."
"But if he did," Solar Max said as he put on his helmet and backed into
the complex exoarmor unit, "I'll try to be there to shoot down anything that
can be shot down. This scramjet is a recon craft, it's unarmed. Hell, it's
not really meant to fly as low as a B-29 either. I might need to catch you
in a gravity bubble."
Pergryn nodded to his team leader, then crawled into the space that had
been made for him in the T-43 Silverhawk. It was normally a one-man craft,
but they'd gutted the extensive surveillance suite to make an uncomfortable,
but adequate, place for Peregryn to perform his rituals. Most importantly to
him, there was no way for the pilot to see into the compartment...for
Peregryn would be doing things that might distract even the strongest-
stomached military man....
* * * *
[Guam, Pacific State]
"This is taking forever," Beacon thought to himself. Sure, all it took
was a full-power blast of light from him to disperse one of the dark hounds
of Set, but after that first lucky hit they hadn't let him get a clean shot
off. He was faster, but they were more maneuverable and generally really
sneaky. And now they'd split up again, so he'd been forced to leave one to
its own devices.
Beacon really wished he had Squadron's ability to make more of these
He also wished these damned dogs weren't so clever. He'd tried herding
one into a trap, where he could get supporting fire from maser-equipped
troops, but it had sensed the gambit and risked dashing right past Beacon to
Sweeping the jungle with brilliant green light, he once again reflected
on how odd the sensation was. He didn't just see things illuminated by his
beams, he *felt* them as well, as if the shafts of light were extensions of
his fingers. And that gave him an idea.
The sky lit up green as it gained a new star. Beacon "felt" his way
outward, covering acres at a time, seeking out a blank spot where the living
darkness must be.
The sky-filling light suddenly focused like a hooded lantern on one
spot, becoming a ravening beam of destruction. Several trees shattered in
the path of the beam, but what had been two WarDogs was now one.
"Too bad the last one's probably already figured a way around that
trick," Beacon sighed as he called in to get a sighting on the last enemy.
He hoped he could find that third hound before it was too late....
* * * *
[The Ruins of Haven, Near Malta]
Conflicto was getting serious deja vu.
Well, except that last time the CSV went down to Haven, he wasn't
wearing his own Deep Armor. And this time it was just the guys, provided you
counted Myriad as half-guy. She was ahead of them, in kraken form.
And, last time, he wasn't riding a rhynchocephalian crocodile with a
third eye. Or alligator. He kept forgetting which it was. He had gotten
the beast a while back, along with the two-headed dromedary...or bactrian (he
kept forgetting that one too). Both were Magene-spliced aberrations that he
liberated during that damned circus incident, and Ringo (his name for the
gator-dile) was powerful enough to survive even these depths. Ringo and the
fire-breathing two-headed camel were the first members of his new
obsession...the Zoo of Malice.
Triton was up ahead as well, plowing deeper in his Strafe armor.
Conspicuously, the AstroSpear was absent, but Eugene figured Tritey hadn't
found a replacement power source just yet. However, Tritey did have that
first trident he owned, as well as a battalion of robocrabs at his side.
He reduced the viscosity of the water around himself and his mount to
speed up and catch up to Triton, then flipped open his sonar-beam com-
channel. "Hey boss? Remind me why we're down here, and why we're helping
"Remember, Eugene, it's not my team anymore. I turned the reins over to
Glyph officially after the wedding. It's her call, her scheme."
"Oops. Force of habit, boss. I'll bug her instead. But tell me why
you and Sultry even care? Shouldn't you be changing diapers somewhere?"
A laugh. "For one, Haven's a historical site, in my books. I have a
obligation as the heir to this armor to protect that TwenCen legacy of
villainy," Triton explained. "Second, they're using blasted *tritons* down
there. You know how I get..."
"...when people use your trademark. I remember," said Conflicto. When
Triton was in jail before the CSV formed, he had Rebus destroy all those who
had vanity plates that read 'TRITON'. Now *that* was vanity! "And three,
you were bored out of your shell?"
"That, too. And that's on top of the whole world domination bid that
really is our purview. Can't have other tyrants stealing our show, can we?"
"Guess not." Conflicto switched channels, and paged Glyph. "Hey
Glyphomaniac! Gotta minute?"
A groan preceded Glyph's answer over the communication channel.
Conflicto thought he also heard some weird music in the background. "Make it
quick, Eugene. We've got sirens and harpies to contend with here in Malta,
and I need to back up Sultry and Burnout before I join you. Be patient."
"Sirens?! Singing nubile babes and you have us guys fighting fish with
pitchforks down here?" Conflicto groaned. Maybe sirens would make him
forget Anya, sweet Anya...he hadn't seen her since that damned circus
"We don't need more hypnotized men to complicate the picture. But keep
an eye out for mermaids while you're down there."
"Really? Mermaids? Bonus!"
Triton cut in on their conversation. "Look alive, Eugene. Here come
"Are hippocampi dangerous?" His eyes lit up. "Damn, I hope so. Can I
get one for my Zoo of Malice?"
Indeed, coming towards them from the glass shell of Haven was a school
of hippocampi, bearing triton riders armed with tridents. Myriad was first
to engage them, trapping the fishtails within its tentacles. Triton directed
his robocrabs to disable the hippocampi, while he fired bolts of underwater
lightning at the tritons. Conflicto had no idea how the lightning worked
underwater (Tritey tried to explain it to him once, but he wasn't paying
Eugene looked behind him, and saw Kaliban catching up from behind. He
hollered into the team channel. "Hey Bananarama! What are you doing back
there? Hurry or you'll miss the fight!"
Anyway, his job was to make the sea into "salt-water taffy" to trip up
the fishtails. He did so now: reaching out with his power, he ramped up the
viscosity around the hippocampi, and started looking for one he really liked.
Then, he saw The One, and smiled.
"Yee haw!" he shouted. "I've always wanted a palomino!"
* * * *
[Over the Sahara Desert]
Peregryn would have presented an odd sight if there was anyone who could
see him. Squatting in a hollowed out and windowless surveillance bay,
stripped naked, and with a glowing sphere around his head. The sphere was
his window on the world, a sort of mystical Heads Up Display, allowing him to
keep track of his environs as well as his path around the world.
He was already bleeding sluggishly from a number of shallow cuts to his
arms and chest, using his own blood to help fuel the spells he was casting.
A year ago, he could have simply drawn on favors owed him by the spirits of
the air and sea and stone, but he had cashed in his credit to remove the
Viaus from the battle against Rebus. There had not been enough time to
regain his status in the spirit world, so he paid the price the hard way.
Still, this was merely preparation. The true costs would be paid after
Q'Nos began his own ritual, the one that Peregryn planned to steal from.
"Radar shows unusual turbulence coming up," the pilot called back over
an improvised intercom.
Peregryn put his blade back in its sheath and cast his senses outward,
feeling at the disturbances in the air that the pilot's instruments had
detected. Yes, this was it. Not mere weather nor the whim of Angeline
Croft-Radner, this was the air's reaction to the turning of a key. A key to
a door that holds back chaos and the night. He waited out the brief seconds
of erratic bumping and shaking.
It was time to begin his own counterspell in earnest.
He drew a sea urchin spine from its leather pouch and started speaking
the sacred words of the Mayan kings, words to call upon the power of the Sun
itself, then slowly drove the spine through his flesh at the prescribed
The pain...was not enough to stop him. It could not be. For if the
others could not stop the ritual Q'Nos was performing, it would be up to
Peregryn to reverse its effects.
No matter the pain, no matter the cost.
* * * *
This island has changed hands between Somalia and Yemen so often that it
was easy to lose track, Mujahid reflected as the life slowly bled out of
him. At the moment, "independent" Somalia claimed it, but they were quick
enough to ask the Moslem Confederation for help in driving the abomination
from their territory. Perhaps this would help tip the Somalis into becoming
full members of the Confederation?
Still, such matters were no longer Mujahid's concern. His troops had
acquitted themselves well, redeeming themselves after the disaster of Greece
and destroying an army of centaurs. But a centaur's arrow, fired in spite as
the beast fell to automatic weapon fire, had found Mujahid's heart.
He could hear the medics working frantically, but the world had already
gone black around him. He was but a man, and he would die. But he had died
fighting in the name of Allah, destroying the abominations and protecting
those who had no other defense. The only regret he had was that his
successor would likely not be as open-minded a man as he, and he would never
get the chance to help mend fences with the other nations of the world.
Still, Paradise awaited Mujahid now...the world would tend to itself, as
it always did.
* * * *
[August 27, 2025 - Knossos, Crete]
Q'Nos lowered his blood-dripping arms and exhaled. It was done. The
three sacrifices lay sprawled about the rough stone altar, the flickering
light of torches revealing serene expressions that were proof that they died
willingly for their lord.
"Arise, she who is called Leviathan, who is called Typhon, who is named
Jormungandr. World Serpent, who in days no longer recorded I called mother.
They humbled me, but you they feared so much that they had to fragment your
legend, turn you into many lesser forms, reduce you to a mere bio-weapon
created in mystic labs.
"The pit of Tartarus is open, o she who birthed me! Come out of the
depths and to my right hand...together we shall conquer this mortal world!"
The water seemed to boil, bubbles surging up in a line stretching away
from shore in two directions. Then it churned, waves spreading out and
crashing against the shore in breakers as tall as a man.
Like a finger from the depths, the Leviathan's mighty tail thrust out of
the water first, its sea green scales glittering in the spray for a moment
before slashing back down into the water to create a wall of spray that
reached for the heavens.
But this was mere prelude to the true emergence.
The head of the Leviathan rose from the center of a whirlpool, stately
and monstrous all at once. Teeth the length of a man's arm dripped foul
venom in a maw large enough to swallow a horse. Baleful eyes of fire
flickered from red to green. Bony spines lined the jawline and brow, one or
two actually broken by some ancient struggle. The serpentine body that
supported it may have only been as wide across as two men are tall, but it
stretched around the entire world.
Stripped of the power of speech by its godly enemies, the Leviathan
could only roar its satisfaction. Q'Nos added his own joyous bellow, and it
seemed that the ground and sea shuddered in fear.
* * * *
Beacon almost had the final shadow hound cornered, when something caught
his eye and told him it was way too late now. Without even a parting shot,
he flew out to sea as fast as he could.
The sea was churning in a line from horizon to horizon, clearly visible
in the late morning light. Something was coming up...something big. And
Peregryn had said to contain anything that came through. Beacon hoped he
With a quickness that belied its size, a blue-green ropelike shape
jumped out of the water like a plucked laundry line, surging towards shore!
Beacon poured all his light into the massive body, but it had no visible
effect save to knock a few discs from it. Scales. Those were scales. But
they were easily half a meter in diameter.
This was one damn big snake.
Water surged up from where the serpent smashed down just short of shore,
sending a breaker dozens of meters inland.
"Good thing everyone's in protective shelters already," Beacon muttered,
trying a more focused blast at a segment that was above the water. There was
a small shudder that ran up and down the serpent's body, but that was it.
And now it was humping up for another go at the island.
The serpent's body was only maybe four or five meters thick, but it was
long enough to go around the whole world...this must be the World Serpent of
Norse myth, he realized. Under the thrashing coils, buildings were being
crushed, roadways cracked, trees splintered. And the monster was shedding
more scales, which were starting to wobble of their own accord.
In a matter of seconds, the scales had grown into tall warriors in
ancient armor, with the original scales becoming irregularly shaped shields.
The warriors started rushing inland, towards the shelters.
"Oh, hell," Beacon almost buzzed. "Well, I can't seem to even slow
Jormungandr here down, might as well blow up some minions before they get to
* * * *
[The Ruins of Haven]
Glyph watched the World Serpent writhe, shedding scales and turning them
into deep sea serpents, sending them towards the Conclavers atop the dome of
Unlike the others, Glyph was not in Deep Armor, but protected herself
with a mystical henna tattoo that lent her protection and air. Just in case,
however, she could summon a suit with a tap on another tattoo, like the one
she had designed for Triton before. But it was the scintillating tattoo in
her right palm that was permanent, a rainbow cobra ready to strike.
She had her own reasons for this deep sea expedition. For years, some
serpentine power had called to her in her dreams, and she had gained her
thirst for mystical knowledge because of it. Could it have been the World
Serpent's dreams calling to her? And would Q'Nos steal the power of
Jormungandr that was rightfully hers?
"Should we attack?" asked Triton, nervously eying the great serpent's
thrashing body. "If only I still had power in the AstroSpear...."
The rest of the Conclavers were likewise cowed.
But not Glyph.
She had known from her dreams that the scales would shed, and prepared
for this moment.
"They're mine," she laughed, and floated towards the serpent swarm. She
held out her hand, palm towards the scale-creatures, and pronounced the final
phrase of her spell.
"Creatures born of fallen scales, come and sheathe this one in power!"
The tattoo in the palm of her hand struck lightning-fast, a stream of
rainbow glyphs reared like a cobras and plunged into the morass of serpents.
The creatures reshaped themselves back into scales, but now they were
rainbow-colored and tiny, and rushed back through the gullet of the rainbow
cobra. When they reached Glyph's hand, they began to coat Glyph's skin with
scales of many colors.
A gasp came across the comlink. "I remember that!" shouted Eugene.
"That was what she looked like in astral form, that time we were plotting
against Derek! All scaly-like!"
"What? When?!" exclaimed Triton. "I *knew* you guys had been talking
behind my back!"
"Er, um, ask Glyffy," evaded Conflicto. "I gotta go check on my
Glyph ignored them, and reveled in the touch of power that was now
wrapping around her.
She would attain perfection soon....
* * * *
A faceless dragon, stretching from one horizon to the other, it sent out
mindless minions from its body to crush all opposition, all dissent. Breaker
had hoped that, even if they failed to stop the ritual, whatever came through
the rift would do so in Crete.
And...it probably had, she realized. This was the serpent that circles
the world, the Jormungandr spoken of in Norse myth. How a Mediterranean like
Q'Nos could know how to free it didn't matter right now. Only containing it
mattered. Peregryn had said he could re-imprison whatever came out, as long
as it was held near the doorway, so hold it she would.
If only it weren't so...so much like China. Tina bit back a hysterical
giggle at the realization. An imperial dragon, shedding scales that turned
into soldiers of the proletariat. No beginning or end in sight, no face,
just miles and miles of body.
The coils she held fast in her golden aura were the coils of the State
she had been taken from as a child, coils her parents had spent years fleeing
from across the face of the world. The State had been a god...an angry,
vengeful god...to her parents, and to her. She had grown up in the Combine,
but for years woke up screaming that the State was coming to take her away,
give her a number instead of a name, pound her into shape until she was just
another cog. Just another scale on the body of the serpent.
A shield-bearing warrior got past the others and tried to impale her on
its spear, but she smashed it away with a savage burst of power.
It was all so clear now...yes, she feared the godlings, who wouldn't?
But the white-knuckled terror, the unreasoning panic that had gripped her all
too often in the past year? *That* was the old fears of childhood refusing
to be quietly forgotten, latching onto a new threat so they could express
themselves. Rebus, Q'Nos...they had been surrogates for the State. For
Now, if only she could survive *this* serpent, she knew what she had to
do to put the nightmares to rest forever....
* * * *
[Mactan, the Phillipines]
The coils of the serpent rose and fell, thrashing against the water and
creating waves that rushed out in two directions, not just towards the
island. Nearly as tall as the taller buildings near the shore, the waves
crashed on...and past...the shore, moving anything that wasn't bolted down.
And some things that were.
Normally, this would include people, but one group of people, most of
them locals who hadn't gotten to the shelters fast enough...seemed to be
unaffected, surrounded by a faintly-visible dome. Still, this didn't stop
them from huddling in fear around a trio of people clad in the uniforms of
"That was close," one of the Marshals said as water splashed against the
dome. "Good job, Tyler."
"Thanks," one of the other said. He was standing in the center of the
dome, a look of concentration creasing his face. "Uh-oh."
"That," said the third Marshal, pointing to scales that had fallen off
of the serpent and turned into warriors in ancient armor. He shifted his
grip on the quarterstaff in his hand. "We should get these people to safety,
"And make sure those things don't try to go after them," Tyler added.
He braced himself as another wave crashed against the dome. "Now would be a
"Right. Get ready to drop the barrier," Wes said, then turned to the
group of people they were protecting. "Okay, everybody...when I say 'run',
you need to go straight to the shelter as quickly as possible. Understood?"
They all nodded, murmuring in agreement.
"Good." He looked back at the approaching warriors, then at the third
Marshal. "Try to leave some of them for us, Ben." He looked at Tyler,
nodded, turned back to the civilians, and shouted, "RUN!"
Ben watched the crowd run towards the shelters, guided by Wes and
Tyler, then turned his attention back to the armed mass that was now only
twenty feet away, and let his quarterstaff drop into his hands. Under his
breath, he muttered, "The things we do in the name of international
He nodded to his opponent, and the battle was joined.
* * * *
[The Moluccas, Indonesia]
Hitting things was no longer helping the Base of the Pillar feel any
better. This was because it was no longer seeming to have any real effect.
Oh, each of her mighty blows rocked the twisting body that had crawled
up onto land, and she was slowly forcing it back towards the sea from which
it had arisen.
But each blow also sent scales flying, and each scale became a warrior
in ancient Greek armor with a spear and shield. The spears couldn't hurt
her, of course, but the rapidly growing swarm of warriors was turning on all
the other targets on the shoreline, soldier and civilian alike. She was
making things worse, with no apparent benefit.
White flames licked along a nearby section of the mighty serpentine body
as Hands of Fire shouted, "DIE, DEMON SPAWN!" The serpent seemed to twitch a
little at this full-force attack, but that was all. Its scales now had a
glassy, molten look where Hands of Fire had attacked...perhaps those scales
would not become warriors?
Base lumbered over to the section her leader had attacked and smashed
both stony fists into it as hard as she could. She heard the scream of pain
in her mind as the coils lashed about furiously.
She had about a second to feel satisfaction before a loop of the body
settled around her and crushed her into a pile of rubble.
* * * *
[August 27, 2025 - Over the Mediterranean, near Crete]
Peregryn prepared to leave the T-34. The hatch could not be opened
while in flight without fatally destabilizing the plane, but Johnny Angel's
ring of teleportation would handle that. The plane's stall speed was nearly
a hundred meters per second, but the Amulet of the Winds would let him cope
with that, as well as lowering him gently.
And the footwear he struggled to put on, made from pieces of army boots
from several museums in the Federal Sector, as well as some old Roman sandals
and pieces of damaged footwear owned by his teammates...that had its own
purpose. They were not Tyr's mighty boot, but hopefully the mystic resonance
would help his cause.
After all, it did not look like he anything he could do today would be
The preparations done, Peregryn twisted the ring and was instantly fifty
meters from the T-34, bouncing about in its wake but rapidly slowing to a
speed where he could breathe.
Below him, the Leviathan thrashed about in the shallow coastal waters,
twisting in the grip of Solar Max's gravity powers. Q'Nos was too far away
to be visible, but Peregryn could feel his baleful presence, and almost hear
his triumphant laughter.
"Solar Max, begin contingency plan alpha," Peregryn calmly spoke into
"Roger," came the reply, and the heavily armored red and gold form broke
off and shot skyward at top speed. Contingency plan alpha involved Solar Max
flying to a piece of orbital debris that had been picked out from the maps
made during Doublecross's plot, and then dropping it on Crete, hoping to kill
the head of the Leviathan. It wasn't given a high chance of success, but...
well, something is better than nothing.
The Leviathan suddenly realized it was free, and started looking about
with more purpose. Peregryn needed to fix its attention on himself as he
drifted down like an autumn leaf. No need for arcane solutions, however.
The early evening sky lit up as Peregryn activated a dazzle flare Essay
had made for him. All eyes were now on this new falling star.
It was a faint glow by the time Peregryn floated mere meters from the
snout of the great beast. It...she, he could feel that now...eyed him
suspiciously. She was canny enough to be suspicious of mages who just
floated there. The dire vapors of her toxic breath washed over him as she
snorted her challenge, but the Amulet of the Winds protected him from the
"Is she not lovely?" a voice boomed from shore, mystically amplified and
directed to his ears by Q'Nos. "If you swear allegiance to me, I'm sure I
can convince my mother not to devour you."
His mother. This was both surprising and...not. Of course his mother
would have been reduced to some sort of monster in the time wars. And of
course Q'Nos would have sought her freedom over all others. She was the icon
of monstrous maternality, Grendel's dragon dam.
"Open your mouth," Peregryn said simply, before kicking the monster in
the snout with all his might and the borrowed might of all those who had worn
the footwear from which his boots were fashioned.
The head snapped back with a crack, the maw opening to bellow in pain,
but Peregryn knew that his strike had been no more effective than a rolled up
newspaper to the snout of a dog. It was merely the opening gambit.
He didn't trust the monster to simply lash out in anger, so dove into
her throat. The surprised gasp of Q'Nos was cut off when the tremendous jaws
Now! He was inside the serpent, inside the defenses that might have
blocked his spell!
"I call upon the serpent that eats its own tail. I call upon the wind
that surrounds this world, on the fire that warms it. I invoke the power of
Q'Nos himself, drawn into me by sacrifice and pain. In penance for what I
did unknowning, and to save all who live from the twilight of man...."
He paused, sinking his fingers into the flesh of the Leviathan's tongue,
which was starting to lash back and forth in an attempt to either swallow him
or spit him out.
"Banish this behemoth from the Earth that imprisoned it, the Earth that
it encircled, the Earth that it threatens...FOREVER!"
Solar Max called up the spysat image of Crete as he broke from the upper
atmosphere, looking back to see how Peregryn was doing.
The serpent had vanished.
Which meant that Peregryn was gone too....
* * * *
[August 28, 2025 - The Moluccas, Indonesia]
A roughly humanoid pile of rubble lay on the shore. A few candles had
been left around it, a strip or two of scripture laid across it. A more
formal funeral was to be held in the morning...for now, the body was its own
The tomb shifted.
Unnoticed by sleeping soldiers and exhausted sentries, a slender form
slowly shifted aside the larger chunks of rock and levered itself up. Its
crystalline body glinted in the candle light, revealing it to be very clearly
She stood, looking at her hands, then the rest of her body, and an
expression of horror flitted across her features. The masquerade was over,
the Base of the Pillar could no longer pretend to be sexless stone.
Then she noticed the candles and the scripture. "They think I am dead,"
she whispered to herself, a hopeful note to her voice. "Let them continue to
think so," she added, stepping from the pile and rearranging the remains of
her "cocoon" to look as undisturbed as possible.
None saw her flee into the night.
* * * *
[August 28, 2025 - Guam, Pacific State]
It all seemed to be over, and Beacon settled down to the shore to check
in with the disaster relief operations that the NAC Navy was running. There
had been a lot of flooding, and buildings smashed by the serpent.
"What's the good word, Ensign?" he asked as he landed.
"Very good, sir," the young officer saluted. ASH members had official
military ranks, but were generally out on their own chain of command. If the
ensign did what George asked of him, it was out of respect, not because he
had to. "A few injuries here and there, but no fatalities. The creature
didn't reach any of the shelters, and we'd managed to get almost everyone
evacuated from the shadow dogs earlier. Just National Guard stuff now."
There hadn't been a separate National Guard in over a decade, but Beacon
nodded, understanding the sentiment. "Any word from other sites? My comlink
got smashed by a spear."
The ensign nodded. "The damn thing's vanished. The monsters are all
running away, no sign of that last dog anywhere on Guam. Word is that the
Righteous Flame and EUROPA both got hammered pretty hard, but they're staying
mum about *how* hard. And they're saying that the EU's conventional forces
took back Sicily."
George unclenched, just then realizing that he *had* been clenched up.
Q'Nos had shot his wad. Aimed for the stars, and thankfully missed. Had his
arm nudged and his aim thrown off. And other metaphors to that effect. "Any
of our people hurt bad?"
The young man shook his head. "Nothing definite yet. Some of the
groups got cut off...can't reach the Pukapuka group at all. STRAFE seems to
have come out of their fight with the merlions of Singapore in one piece,
though, same with the Marshals we loaned to Singapore. Sir...? We could
really use you over on the north shore, there's a half-crushed building that
might have people in it."
Beacon nodded. Time enough to check up on his friends later. "I'm on
it, just give me a radio headset...."
* * * *
[Mactan, the Phillipines]
The three Marshals had spent most of the time since the serpent's sudden
disappearance helping with cleanup and rescue operations. The serpent had
managed to knock over several buildings, including one of the shelters, and
the Marshals had proven to be helpful in clearing away debris.
Tyler used his force fields to prop up a collapsed wall while Ben led
a family out from under it. Twenty feet away, a hand attached to a tentacle-
like arm pulled a stuffed lion out from under a bit of debris. The arm, a
glowing, blue energy construct attached to Wes's body, lifted the toy up to
eye level just as one of the children squealed with excitement.
Wes grabbed the stuffed animal with his real hands, letting the tentacle
dissipate, and walked over to return the toy to its owner. "Here you go."
Medics guided the family away from the debris, even as the parents
thanked the Marshals for rescuing them. They passed a local official who was
making a beeline for the three Marshals, a smile on his face.
"Friends, I can't thank you enough for your help here," he said in
almost unaccented English. "I want you all to know that I'll be including
positive recommendations in my report to the NAC." He looked at Tyler.
"Particularly for you, Mr. Cochrane."
Tyler turned beet red, causing Wes to break into laughter and Ben to
start snickering. "But..." Tyler began, "*Wes* is the leader, not me!"
Wes cut in. "Actually, Mayor Ordoveza, none of us were officially
assigned as leader here," he explained. "But we know each other well, so
we're pretty good at working together."
Ordoveza nodded. "Understood. I'll leave that thought out of my
report, then," he said to Tyler's relief. "I need to go tour the damaged
areas now, but I'm sure I'll see you before you head back to the Combine.
Take care, friends."
"You too," Wes replied as the mayor left. He took advantage of the
subsequent lull to look around and survey the damage in the area they were
"We did good here, guys," he said. "Real good."
* * * *
[August 27, 2025 - Pukapuka Island]
Midnight was fast approaching. Breaker lay on her back on the sandy
shore and stared up at the stars. Nearby, the helijet lay like a smashed
eggshell, flattened by the serpent's coils. Tina had lost control of it for
just a second before it had vanished entirely, but a second had been enough
to strand them.
Lightfoot padded over and sat down next to her. "Aaron finally got
through to a Sensitive in Tahiti, we should have transport out of here in a
couple of hours."
"You were right, Tom."
"About Tahiti? Of cou..."
"No," she sat up. "About this all being about running from China. It
just clicked while we were fighting Jormungandr. You're right. I thought
I'd gotten over those childhood nightmares, but I guess I just put them away
in the closet, and they came bursting back out once I started facing things
that were big and scary."
Tom nodded. "So...are you okay now? No more freaking out and running
from church to temple to synagogue?"
She shook her head. "Not really. I mean, I know what the real problem
is now, but that doesn't mean it's resolved. I need to face my true fear,
deal with that."
"You don't mean...?"
"Yes. I need to go back to China."
* * * *
[August 27, 2025 - Tierra del Fuego, South American Protectorate]
Essay slumped back in her seat in the helijet, exhausted from search and
rescue work. The coils of the serpent had smashed up part of a small village
near the shore of the Strait, and it had taken a few hours to dig out all the
survivors...and make sure that those *were* all the survivors. Digging out
the dead could be left for morning.
She finally opened her eyes and linked her visor up to the companel,
downloading her messages to a half-mask display that let her see the world
outside the visor dimly. There were a few official communications, detailing
how the other squads had done, confirming that the serpent had been banished,
and so forth.
Then a flashing icon indicated that a personal message had just been
delivered. Hm, time-delayed, from Howie.
That didn't bode well.
She scanned all the official messages again first, trying to find word
of Howie's fate, and she found it. Report by JakZak.
Her heart sank, and the cold of the winter outside seemed to penetrate
the sealed cabin. Dread making her breath catch in her throat, she opened
"Sara, by the time you read this message, I will most likely be missing
and presumed dead."
"Madre de Dios..." she hissed, then read on.
"I may be dead, but I don't plan to be. To banish this...Titan, let us
call it...I will most likely have to accompany it into the pits of Tartarus.
My plan is to try to ride the Titan along the wave of the banishment spell
and seek out wherever Montreal has gone, for I am now convinced that it still
exists. Somewhere, in exile.
"I may be dooming myself and Montreal with this plan, but I hope not. I
believe that the Titan is tied to the Earth, and should not survive the trip.
As for myself, I should have enough power in myself and my artifacts to
survive wherever I arrive.
"I WILL find my way back to you, Sara. You are my anchor to humanity,
the glowing beacon that will guide my way. And, more than that, there is a
piece of me in you. I am not being merely metaphorical...
"How should I say this? I've known something for several weeks that I
have not told you, and it scares me more than the thought of diving down the
maw of the Titan, yet also fills me with hope for the future. Sara, if I
have to defy the gods themselves, I will return before our daughter is born."
Peregryn's gone, and he's not the only one who will be leaving the team,
as next issue sees two more heroes go! But, perhaps, there will be new
heroes to take their places? Be here for #51, as we transition between The
Q'Nos Chronicles and the next uber-arc, The Romance Of Three Republics!
The CSV scenes were written by Tony Pi. The NAC Marshals scene(s) were
written by Mike Escutia, in his ASH debut. Joe Singleton didn't write
anything, but he did draw the cover and create a new logo for the title. :)
Keeping track of happenings in a world-spanning story with so much of
the action being near the International Date Line can be tricky, apologies if
I mixed up any dates or times of day.
Yes, there are beavers in Tierra del Fuego. SUCH beavers there are!
Beavers are to Tierra del Fuego as jackrabbits are to Australia: an import
brought in by an entrepeneur who then found that without natural predators
the damn things would be everywhere within a few years.
There are two Pukapuka Islands in the Pacific: the one in this story,
and the one also called Wale Island of the Danger Islands. Wale has three
villages and a tourist industry. Pukapuka in the Isles of Disappointment
doesn't even list as having population in some atlases.
In one version of the tale of Ragnarok, Tyr faces off with the Midgard
Serpent. He has no sword, having traded it away for the woman he loved, but
he is equipped with a mighty boot made from bits of leather given to him by
men all over the world. This boot breaks the serpent's jaw and slays it, but
Jormungandr's final poisonous breath kills Tyr in turn. Ragnarok was all
about "he dies, she dies, EVERYBODY dies."
Oh, and I was very tempted to make a Shaft reference just before
Peregryn tells the Leviathan to open her mouth. She's one baaaaad mother,
after all. But I (rightly) decided that it would go against the mood, and
shifted it here to the endnotes, which are already silly thanks to the
While this issue is being posted slightly before the actual 10th
Anniversary of ASH, it *is* being posted on my (Dave's) 34th birthday. :)
Note from Tony: In case anyone's wondering what that *damned* circus
incident refers to, it's an unwritten Annual about the Conclave of Super-
Villains, the Circus of Crime, and the Zoo of Malice. It *may* involve
noodles and invisible tigers. Hopefully, one day the story will be told....
Note from Mike: Ben isn't sure that his name IS Ben (in fact, it was
Andrew at first draft). So if he has a different name in a future
appearance, assume this one is in error.
Finally, http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH/ash50key.JPG will help you
identify all the characters on the cover! The Leviathan isn't keyed, but I
think you can figure out which one it is....
For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !
To discuss this issue or any others, either just hit "followup" to this
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