[ASH] ASH #49 - Island Hopping
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Fri May 21 21:55:50 PDT 2004
//|| //^^\\ || || .|. COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
// || \\ || || --X---------------------------------------------
//======================= '|` ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #49
// || \\ || || Island Hopping
// || \\__// || || Copyright 2004 by Dave Van Domelen
[cover shows a map of the Pacific, with a bloody red line snaking
its way from island to island.]
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 15, 2025 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]
"We will not countenance this invasion of our soil! If Sicily is not
returned to us by the end of the month, we will (KLIK)..."
JakZak turned off the news in disgust, finishing the Eurasian Union
representative's sentence for him, "...do nothing, but rattle our sabers more
loudly and extend the deadline. Damn it. This is all Radner's fault!"
Sarah, curled up against him in her insulated uniform, raised her
eyebrows. "How d'you figure that? Khadam's stayed out of this one, for
whatever reason. Not a peep. Or do you think the esteemed Chancellor of
Khadam is at fault because he didn't nobly come to the aid of a neighbor
nation?" she added sarcastically.
JakZak shook his head. "Not directly. But the EU wouldn't be so gunshy
right now if it wasn't recovering from the repeated hammering it took last
year from Radner's schemes. They've got to be worried that taking too strong
a stand against Q'Nos will earn them a new hurricane thanks to the minotaur's
godly powers, or something."
"That's not the impression Aaron got at the talks in Istanbul, dear."
He waved a hand as if brushing aside the argument. "He was getting his
impressions from Arc, who I'm sure is just as eager as we are to go in with
guns blazing. If the EU was serious about acting, Arc would already be in
Salermo, beating on monsters. It's a bluff, and I think Q'Nos knows it,
because he's counter-bluffing just as hard. It's almost like he's trying to
buy time...probably because it's taking him a while to move enough troops
into Sicily to actually have a chance of holding it."
"Maybe he's waiting for reaction from Khadam before deciding which way
to go? Doesn't want to commit to staying or going until he sees how his
neighbor to the south reacts?"
JakZak nodded sullenly. "Maybe. I just hate being in the dark on this
sort of thing."
Tina sat in her room, alone. The shades were drawn, the lamps turned
off. The only light came from the "strings" of her laser guitar, and she
played a slow, haunting tune on it.
A god was walking the earth, doing what he wanted, taking what he
desired. Tina wasn't sure which prospect scared her more: that no one would
try to stop him, or that she would have to be the one to try.
She'd been going to church a lot lately. To more than one church, in
fact. But it wasn't helping. She wasn't getting this faith in a higher
power that everyone said she should have. The only higher powers she
believed in were those she'd seen with her own eyes. Rebus the mad god.
Q'Nos the bull.
And neither of those gods gave her much hope for the future.
She played on.
"It doesn't make any sense. He doesn't have a fleet, how could he be
trying to become a naval power?" Scott asked around bites of a thick, gooey
slice of pizza. "Sure, he's got some river and sea spirits on his side, and
those harpies could be considered an air force, but his strengths are land-
"Gatez could compenzate for a lack of zhipz," George buzzed, his
agitation showing. He could speak without that annoying undertone now if he
concentrated, but he wasn't at his peak right now, despite being cleared to
return to active duty only a few days before. "He'd only need to have agentz
plaze myztic linkz on the target izlandzzz. Gah," he threw up his arms,
frustrated at his own lack of diction.
"Okay, I'll grant that. And he has some very compact forces available,
like those shadowhounds. But he's bottlenecking himself there, relying on
mystic means of resupply when he could be expanding over land. There may not
be a lot of Anchors left, but there are some around who could join commandos
and cut off his gates." Scott finished off the slice with a thoughtful look
on his face. "Crete I can see. It's supposedly his home, he'd want it
back. But what connection does Sicily have to a minotaur? And it's not like
it's so isolated that the EU would have trouble mounting a counterstrike from
Italy. There's easier ways for him to choke the Adriatic if that's his goal,
not that Venice or Trieste were in happy condition with him holding just the
eastern shore. Q'Nos is not an idiot, I don't think he's just going after
islands for some goofy theme. There has to be a valid strategic reason."
"Then letz...*let's* figure it out before he shows us, right?" George
* * * *
[August 15, 2025 - Mexico City, Federal Sector]
Sal and Arin sat in the relative cool of a shaded cafe table as the
noonday sun beat down on the city. All around them, people went about their
business, unconcerned about events on the other side of the planet. Why
should they worry? A bunch of heathens defeated another bunch of heathens in
some battles. And even if a Catholic nation was invaded, it was nobody they
knew personally, right?
The clock adorning a nearby church steeple clicked forward another
minute. 11:58, it proclaimed. One tick closer to armageddon.
"Something interesting about the clock, big guy?" Arin asked, tipping
back her broad straw hat nonchalantly.
"Hm? Oh, just thinking about something TwenCen. The Doomsday Clock. A
bunch of scientists got together every so often and estimated how close we
were to blowing ourselves up, and they'd symbolize it with a number of
minutes away from midnight. Looking at that clock," he gestured, "made me
think of it. And how Q'Nos may be ticking us closer to doomsday. Yeah, I
know, it's a minute to noon, not a minute to midnight," he added as it
clanked forward another minute. "Still, symbols are symbols."
Arin was silent for a moment at this, and Sal suspected he knew why.
She'd been sowing seeds of female empowerment all over Mexico, trying to
establish a counter to its rather patriarchal culture. And the symbol she'd
been using in these not-as-secret-as-she-thought meetings was the labris, the
double-bitted axe that was an ancient symbol of female strength.
Unfortunately, it was also the personal banner of Q'Nos, who was clearly
waging a war of meanings here.
"Yeah," Arin finally nodded, giving Sal a look that told him she knew
that he knew. "Even when they don't mean what you want them to mean."
* * * *
[August 15, 2025 - Little Blue Lake, Wisconsin Sector]
Politics. The plans of godlings. Strange tactics. Symbols.
All of these things weighed on his teammates, singly or in pairs. But
meditating in his woodland retreat, only Peregryn was trying to combine all
of these elements and seek the true meaning behind them.
There was also one event that Peregryn was aware of, but had not yet
informed others about. Perhaps a dozen people in the entire world could
sense it, and most of them would only know that something ominous was going
on behind the curtains of the world. Of those who did know the true meaning,
Peregryn was certain Q'Nos was at the top of the list.
Tartarus was stirring. An abyss between the realities, it had been a
dumping ground for enemies too powerful to simply destroy but no longer
strong enough to escape by their own efforts. The sort of place Q'Nos may
have spent considerable time, perhaps. A prison for fallen gods and titans,
a part of the world yet just outside of it. Like the pocket dimension
guarded by The Family in South America [ASH #3], it was inside the Barrier,
but sealed with its own potent walls and cages.
It certainly made sense that Q'Nos might have allies trapped within,
allies he would be seeking to free. But who? And how did this fit in with
his conquest of Sicily...or were the two unrelated? All volcanos were
potential gateways to Tartarus, but there were easier targets than Sicily's
He decided he would meditate further on the issue, but only until
sundown. Then he would take what he had found...and what he had not...and
bring it to the attention of his teammates.
* * * *
[August 16, 2025 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]
"Thank you, Howard," JakZak nodded from the head of the conference
table. "Does anyone else have anything to add?" His gaze swept the room,
taking in both the people who were physically present and those, like Sal and
Arin, who were participating via teleconference linkup.
"Yeah," Essay snarled. "Why do we keep talking and not doing anything?
And don't say 'politics,' 'cuz that's a stupid answer."
JakZak sighed, leaning back in his chair and massaging his temples with
both hands. "Yes, Essay, it's a stupid answer. But it's the only one we've
got right now. Until and unless Q'Nos makes a move against Combine
territories, and until and unless the EU or MC agree to let us act on their
soil, there's nothing we can do but sit around and hope Khadam is the next
target or something. But while we sit around, we can try to figure out what
the hell Q'Nos is up to. The Pentagon agrees with Scott and George about the
odd strategic environment, and Howard has a very good point regarding rituals
and Tartarus. So that's what we DO. We follow those leads, keep an eye
peeled for any other clues, and try to be ready to jump in case Q'Nos gives
us an opening."
"Meanwhile," Aaron interjected, "based on the reports I was able to
weasel out of our Moslem counterparts before leaving the area, I think you
should get to work on a really good fungicide, Essay. Q'Nos has some sort of
space spore on his side that can warp reality."
"Great. Now fungus has the Magene," Tom sighed. "I miss the 90s."
"Actually, it was created in the 90s," Sal noted over his link. "A
Bosnian supernormal tried to 'end' the ethnic crisis by bombarding the area
with meteors. One of those meteors had some sort of space fungus on it, and
it interacted with his own reality warping and the efforts of the super who
stopped him. Drifted into Greece on the wind and took root. Supposedly a
big part of why Greece is so messed up."
Tom blinked. "Oookay. Can I miss the 80s instead?"
* * * *
[August 18, 2025 - Tenerife, Canary Islands]
Life was good, Carlos thought to himself as he strolled along the
riverbank near Las Caletillas, one of the smaller tourist towns on the
island. La Playa de las Arenas might not be the finest or largest beach on
Tenerife, but it was a fine place and attracted more than its share of
And tourists, though they might be loud and demanding and sometimes
crude, were what made life so good, this Carlos knew. His job at the Hotel
of the Sands paid so well because of tourists. He could even afford to take
the bus down from Araya every day, avoiding the six mile walk when he was
tired or in a hurry. Today he was neither tired nor in a hurry, so he was
saving the bus fare.
Tourists came to Tenerife more and more lately. The Mediterranean was
no longer safe, thanks to hurricanes and terrorism and war. Ibiza had all
but been destroyed! So tourists from Europe and even from western Africa
flocked to the Canary Islands for their sunny vacations.
Carlos reflexively turned at the sound of a splash in the river, and saw
a naked woman stand up in the shallow water! She shook herself, snarling
about something in a language he didn't understand, and then dove back into
the water as if it was a deep pool.
He ran over to where she had surfaced, thinking he might have to save
some drunken tourist who didn't think a swimming pool was "natural" enough.
But there was no sign of a woman.
Carlos sincerely hoped that Tenerife was not now getting the kind of
tourist that had ruined Ibiza. He liked having a job. He turned around and
headed back for Las Caletillas...time to report this to somebody. And hope
they didn't tell him to go home and sleep it off.
* * * *
[August 20, 2025 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]
"Tom, you busy?" Tina poked her head into the room there Dodson was
staying over the summer, before heading back to the Academy and detached
"Not really," he shrugged, closing a file he had been working on.
"Something on your mind?"
Tina stepped in, idly brushing some laundry from a chair with the golden
aura of her telekinesis and dropping it in what looked to be a laundry bin.
"Yeah. I was wondering...could you tell me what it was like working with
Tom blinked, then shrugged again. "More like avatars, really. I left
on my little trip to the future before the gods themselves started walking
around in person. But, well, they were all different. Stormcloud was really
distant, there didn't seem to be much of her original personality left under
the goddess. Set was...extreme. He was really this mousy little professor
guy, but when he turned into Set it was like he was desperately trying to
live the sort of life his scrawny body had kept him from living. And not
always getting it right...for a big scary guy, he had a lot of trouble
intimidating people. They tended to laugh at first, before he crushed them
in one hand or something."
"Oh," Tina looked disappointed. "So they were really just supernormals
with a different kind of origin? Not really gods?"
"If by that, you mean was I scared shitless by the prospect of being on
the same planet as them, no. Like, they were dangerous, of course. And
Set's evil fellow avatar Sutekh was both creepy AND dangerous. But nothing
like having Rebus or Q'Nos around."
"What makes you think..."
"That you're stressing out over Q'Nos?" Tom interrupted. "I may not be
all that perceptive, Tina, but even I notice when you flinch every time he's
brought up. And you were really uncomfortable when we were in Egypt,
although I think you thought you covered it up well."
"I...guess I did think that," she admitted.
"If you don't mind a bit of armchair psychology," he continued, "I think
this has something to do with how you were always running away as a kid,
after your parents defected. You spent years expecting to run away from
things too big to fight, and while you've gotten more powerful and able to
fight back against more things...gods just go off the scale, and you're five
years old again, running from the PROC."
Without another word, Tina stood and left the room. She looked like she
was on the verge of either screaming or crying, and Tom wasn't sure which.
"Okay, maybe she DID mind a bit of armchair psych," he sighed, then went back
to the file he'd been working on.
* * * *
[August 23, 2025 - Guam, Pacific State]
Officially, no one lives at the mouth of the Pago River anymore, not
since a Spanish village there was wiped out by smallpox in 1856. The legends
about a giant fish that was nibbling at the island at that point didn't
exactly make it attractive for redevelopment, either.
This lack of population and link to legend made it all the more
attractive to others, of course, and a small bronze plaque flared to life in
the pre-dawn gloom. A mystic gate planted on the shore of the bay by sea
spirits friendly to Q'Nos, it discharged a trio of SHAPES. They were lupine
in bearing, but composed of shadow so deep that it stood out even in the
Unofficially, Pago Bay was not exactly uninhabited.
"Probably just another tourist who wanted to find someplace unspoiled,"
Cpl. Fredericks groused to his sergeant as the squad moved carefully through
the overgrowth. The morning breeze was starting to kick up, so it wasn't
really uncomfortable in his composite armor bodysuit, but he still didn't
like having to put the whole thing on and go outside just because the motion
detectors pinged. And there was a part on the left arm that chafed no matter
what he did.
"Can it, Freds," Sgt. Dawson snarled. "Unless these tourists are from
the Emerald City of Oz and got here by clicking their heels together, they
ain't tourists. This wasn't just a motion spike, there were clicks on the
teleport detectors." Teleportation was the biggest worry of people trying to
design secure installations. Fortunately for their peace of mind, most forms
of instantaneous transmission made the local laws of nature go a little wonky
for a moment, and detectors could be built to pick that sort of thing up.
"Now quit grousing and keep an eye out...and not just yer Mk.I eyeball."
Chastened into silence, Fredericks motioned the rest of the eight man
squad into a sweep formation, and everyone dropped sensor monocles down from
Seconds later, one of the squad whispered on the general push, "Blank,
two o'clock, fifty em!"
"Jenkins, Louis, Parsons, Wolfe...I want you on regular subdual rounds.
The rest of you, special settings," the sergeant hissed, thumbing over the
control on his own weapon. Each of the squad had a different "special
setting" that launched an attack intended to defeat some form of supernatural
defense. His own was a focused sonic beam, Freds had a maser beam, and so
forth. A "blank" was any target that showed up as a hole in the sensor
picture, commonly meaning invisibility. And with invisibility often went a
number of other powers, such as intangibility. The special settings weren't
as effective in raw terms as bullets or beanbags, but it increased the odds
something would work.
"Fire!" Dawson commanded.
The trio of blanks on his monocle scattered as soon as he gave the
order, but the squad had been expecting that, and tracked targets. As he'd
half-expected, the subdual rounds passed harmlessly through the blanks. The
corporal's maser seemed to have an effect on the blanks, but Dawson didn't
manage to score a hit on his own target to see if sonics were useful.
Two of the blanks vanished into the trees, becoming effectively
impossible to track. The third charged at the squad, either suicidally
trying to protect its comrades, or maybe expecting an easy lunch.
"Scatter! Maser fire if you've got the option!"
Moving faster than an unaided human could, the squad members got out of
the blank's way, using the flatpanel motor enhancement of their bodysuits to
spring aside and then turn on a dime to concentrate fire on the enemy. Three
maser beams lashed out, their invisible light accompanied by an electrical
crackling as air in their path ionized. One flared high, but it drove the
blank down into the path of the other two.
The blank, now clearly a wolfen form made of shadow, writhed in pain for
a moment before sinking into the ground.
"WAR DOGS OF SET. PART OF THE FORCES OF Q'NOS," a display in the corner
of his monocle read. "LIKELY PART OF AN INVASION. RETURN TO BASE TO REGROUP
* * * *
[August 24, 2025 - Arlington, Federal Sector - Pentagon Offices]
"At 0440 local time, sensors at a covert research installation on the
eastern short of Guam picked up a teleport disturbance. A squad was
dispatched to investigate, and encountered a trio of so-called War Dogs,
known assets of Q'Nos," the briefing officer told the room of generals,
superheroes and politicians. "The War Dogs were repulsed and reinforcements
sent to the location. Due to their mobility and unique natures, the War Dogs
have so far managed to avoid capture or destruction...while the units
stationed on Guam have the equipment to hurt shadowforms, they have not yet
been able to corner the War Dogs with enough firepower to do the job. They
have been chasing Q'Nos's forces around the island for the better part of a
day now, as well as working to evacuate civilians to more defensible
locations. No further forces have arrived, oddly, but this may be in part
because the teleportal device was located and neutralized."
General Davis, head of the North American Combine Armed Forces, stood.
"Thank you, Colonel Karim. Now that we know Q'Nos is pursuing some other
agenda besides outright conquest, satintel and humint have revealed small
incursions on a number of other islands around the world, including Tierra
del Fuego, the Canary Islands, Singapore, the Seychelles and Zanzibar." A
map on the wall lit up with red spots to indicate the islands Davis had
named, and a number of other small Pacific islands and atolls. "With such a
large number of targets, Q'Nos cannot be planning to conquer and hold all of
them, especially the more heavily populated areas such as Singapore or the
Phillipines. That puts it squarely in your laps, gentlemen," he nodded to
the ASH contingent sitting together on one side of the conference table.
JakZak, George and Peregryn all looked terribly young compared to the rest of
the people in the room, yet no one doubted their experience.
Chancellor Stockwell stood, looking as if he was posing for the press
cameras that weren't there. "Gentlemen, this is no longer a problem just for
the Eurasian Union, or the Moslem Confederation. Q'Nos has invaded our
shores, which is as good as a declaration of war. A declaration that I will
be asking the Senate for once we finish here. We have informed the other
world powers of our intentions and of the incursions we have spotted in their
territories, I believe we can get the United World to endorse this action."
General Davis nodded. "Thank you, Chancellor Stockwell. Mr. Taylor,"
he turned to JakZak, "ASH is going to be split up to respond to both the
threats we are currently aware of, and as preventative measures at any
location within our borders that seems particularly at risk. I would
appreciate opinions from your team regarding those latter locations, and any
insights you may have into Q'Nos's plans."
"I have one right now," George replied, keeping his voice steady as he
keyed up something he had been looking at on his tablet. "Something that
came to me after you put up those points on the map. I'm adding it to the
A green line appeared on the map, tracing its way all the way around the
globe. And while it seemed a fairly poor match for part of its length, it
went through or near every island indicated in red between the Phillipines
and the Canaries.
"This is Magellan's circumnavigation," George explained. You'll note
that it doesn't match up with locations like the Seychelles or Zanzibar...but
that part of the route happened after the death of Magellan himself. I'm not
sure what it means, but it seems too coincidental to *not* have meaning.
Especially since Q'Nos relies heavily on magic and symbol."
"I think I should look into this," Peregryn decided.
"You do that," General Davis turned the suggestion into an order with
his tone and expression. "Mr. Taylor, I'd like you to stay behind to discuss
the disposition of your people. Chancellor Stockwell?"
"Hm? Oh, yes. Thank you all for coming, now let's be about our
individual business, eh?"
When people think of the Library of Congress, they tend to think of
people roaming through dusty old stacks, surrounded by piles and piles of
books. After all, every "serious" publication sent a copy to the Library of
Not exactly. The vast bulk of the collection was inaccessible to the
public. Instead, a system of ramps and belts and elevators was used to bring
the books to reading rooms on request, a system in place for generations and
occasionally upgraded for greater speed and greater care in handling of an
But a few sections were considered too sensitive to be trusted to the
mechanical delivery system. Even a one in a million error rate would put
dangerous books in the wrong hands eventually. Conspiracy theorists who knew
of these restricted stacks spent nearly endless hours trying to gain access,
but most of these books were only truly hazardous in the hands of a mage.
Hence, the librarian in charge of this particular room was very nervous
to have Peregryn leafing through the tomes under his care. This was a man
who had lived through the Godmarket, who knew what could be done with the
knowledge he kept safe...even in the hands of a so-called "hero".
For his part, Peregryn tried to ignore the anxiety the librarian
radiated like the heat of a bonfire. He regretted that there was so much in
this room that he had to skim over, that he might never get a chance to read
carefully. But he had a specific task, a specific goal.
And he had found it.
"Aha...the diary mentioned in the Wanderer's effects," he whispered,
careful not to disrupt any of the complex lines of power surrounding him. He
paged through it carefully, until he found the passages he wanted. Reading
them, then reading them again to be sure his translation spells were acting
as they should, he nodded.
"Magellan was guided in his course by dark dreams of the deep, as if the
abyss itself was talking to him. Why he confided in this minor crewman is a
mystery, perhaps he felt his officers would...do something rash...if he told
them about his dreams." In truth, he wasn't really talking to the librarian,
he just felt these words needed to be spoken aloud. In case...never mind
that. "The diarist thinks that Magellan's ill-conceived actions in what we
call the Phillipines were an elaborate means of committing suicide without
being damned for it. He did not want to follow the path his dreams laid out
for him, not anymore. No wonder this sailor's diary is in the restricted
stacks...a dilettante mage with a sailboat might be tempted to retrace
Magellan's route and unleash...something."
Tartarus called out to Magellan, and now it called out to Q'Nos. A
ritual that would gird the globe and open wide the gates of the pit. But to
what end? Not that this mattered much at the end of the day. Whatever the
purpose of Q'Nos's ritual, Peregryn would have to make sure it failed.
Anything trapped in Tartarus should remain there, whatever its name.
* * * *
[August 25, 2025 - Mount Olympus]
Q'Nos sat atop his marble and gold throne and mused aloud to an empty
"It all goes well. Long has she been trapped in the abyss of Tartarus.
They have called her many things. Typhon. The Leviathan. Jormungandr. But
to me, she is simply...mother."
A single, satisfied snort punctuated the statement, echoing across the
Q'Nos's full plan is revealed, and all the heroes in the world may not
be enough to stop what he plans to unleash! Be here for the oversized
special issue #50, "World On A String"!
The internet is such a lovely tool for getting both inspiration and
information when writing. About the time I finished #48, I had a rough idea
that Q'Nos would be trying to enact a ceremony on islands around the world,
but didn't really know which islands I wanted.
Then, while reading one of Matt Rossi's bits of weirdness at
(yes, the Matt Rossi who wrote Warden), I was inspired. He was talking about
Drake serving some mystic agenda in his travels, and things clicked. I
needed a route around the world, and one alrady existed: Magellan's. Not
only that, but when Magellan met his end, it seemed to be the result of
uncharacteristic stupidity. What if he was following some call from the
deep? And couldn't handle it anymore, getting himself killed to silence the
The next step was a bit tougher. I wanted a detailed map of Magellan's
voyage, but all the online sources had rough global maps with no names.
Eventually I found a one-page travelogue that listed enough stops to get me
started, and I filled in some of the rest by just poking around an atlas at
Things got easier once I had my islands picked. Want a map of Tenerife?
Took me about half a minute to find a really good one. Guam? Even less
time, and it was attached to a great information site that gave me a perfect
place to set my secret installation. The legend about the giant fish was a
Inspiration and information, the lifeblood of writing.
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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