LNH/LNH2 [Acraphobe]: The Alt.Riders #33

Jamas Enright thad at eyrie.org
Tue Feb 15 22:42:04 PST 2005

[This title has always been bordering on the Acraphobic, and I think now
is as good a time as any to reinforce the "mature audience only" label.
So, warning: mature images ahead.]
Blue Light Productions presents:

________  ____ _           _____ _   _     ____      _
|      |   |   |           |   | |   |     |  |      |
| BLiP |   |   |           |   | |  -|--   |  | o    |
|      |   |   |--| |--|   |---| |   |     |--~   |--| |--| |--- ----
| #33  |   |   |  | |  |   |   | |   |     |  \ | |  | |  | |    |___
|      |   |   |  | |~~~   |   | |   |   _ |  | | |  | |~~~ |       |
~~~~~~~~   ~   ~  ~ ~~~~   ~   ~ ~~  ~~~ ~ ~  ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~    ~~~~
     [The cover is a close up of a hand holding a treasure map, which
	shows the island of Ha'ano. On it is an X. Which is scribbled
	through. There is another X, and this is also scribbled through.
	As are several other Xs. Finally, a big question mark has been
		drawn over the entire island.]

                              "Future Dies"

20 years and one day later...

"On behalf of the united forces of the Loonited States." The island Ha'ano
in the Pacifi.net Islands was a miniature paradise. Palm trees lined the
beach, and wild jungle waited temptingly on the island interior, begging
to be explored. The sun shone down on the comfortable side of hot, and in
the distance was a faint bird song.
     "Under the universal powers of the Pro-Anti-Terrorist Act of 2011."
Lady Marsha Burgenstock stood, wearing a pith helmet, Ray Bans, a
comfortable but loose cotton shirt, white flannel trousers and sturdy yet
fashionable hiking boots. All in all, the simple looking outfit cost more
than the latest of Britney Spears' face lifts.
     "I, Allan Knewbee." Rick Mansfield stood in a lurid example of a
Hawaiian shirt, the greens clashing with the yellows, and neither of them
speaking to the reds or the blues. Other stains also adorned the shirt,
but no-one wanted to talk about them. He wore knee-length shorts, with
mid-thigh high white socks and loafers. His hair was laying limply in long
scraggly clumps, and the rest of his visible body (although technically,
considering he was a shape-shifter and merely morphed on his outer ware,
all of his body was already visible) shone with a faint hint of oily
grease. He dealt with the sun by the simple expediency of growing tinted
contacts over his eyes.
     "Hereby arrest you for the crime of the destruction of
Sin.ci.net.ty." Veronica Summers somehow resisted the heat, despite
wearing a layer of thick black clothing, a one piece that covered her
arms, body, legs and feet. Her face bore a thoughtful expression, and
there was no sign in her eyes at all that the sun bothered her.
     "The penalty is death." Allan Knewbee wore a white suit, made from
cheap acrylic, from white shirt, white jacket, white tie down to white
pants and white shoes. Despite the exquisite cut of the suit, it couldn't
quite hide the growing paunch beneath. The sweat stood out on his head, as
the sun baked him through his thinning hair, and he squinted through the
     "Sentence is to be carried out immediately." Around the four of them
were a veritable army of soldiers, all wearing black fatigues, fingerless
gloves, tight caps and sunglasses. They also carried very effective P133
rifles which, in the hands of the right marksman, could take out a target
at a distance of over 500 meters. Currently, a good half-dozen were
pointing the rifles at Marsha, Rick and Veronica.
     "Fire." Shots rang out. Veronica collapsed to the ground in a heap.
     "Nooo!" Rick screamed, launching himself at Allan. Allan stood his
ground, and suddenly Rick found himself on the pointed end of several
large skewers suddenly poking through his body. Dazed, he looked around to
see that one of the soldiers had suddenly sprouted several blades from her
arms to now pierce Rick's body (although fortunately not piercing any
internal organs, as Rick didn't really have any unless he remembered to
form them).
     "You didn't think you were the only shape-shifter around, did you?"
Allan asked, retrieving a large white hanky from a pocket to dab away the
drops of perspiration. He walked passed Rick, took a quick look at Marsha,
who didn't look like she was ready to try anything, then stood over
Veronica's body.
     Savagely, he gave her a brutal kick in the side of her body. "Stupid
cow, you really thought you were so much better than everyone else," he
said, leaning down over her body.
     "I am better," Veronica replied, her eyes snapping open. In one fluid
movement, she was up, grabbing Allan around the throat, and spinning him
around to form a shield between her and the guns as best she could. From
somewhere about her person, she retrieved a knife, which she pressed into
Allan's jugular vein.
     "I'm sure a shape-shifter's not all you've got," she hissed into
Allan's ear as the latter tried to take in this change in circumstances.
"But do you think any of them can move fast enough to stop me?"
     Veronica staggered back a step, dragging Allan with her. "Gnnh."
Pressing hard enough to draw blood, she grunted, "And that includes any
mind tricks you might feel like trying to pull."
     Allan quickly waved his arms at the soldiers. "Down, down," he
squealed. "Get back, damn you!" There was a tense moment, then the
soldiers lowered their guns and backed off.
     "You'll never get out of this alive," Allan spat.
     "Shut up," Veronica ordered, "or neither will you. Let Rick go."
     Allan's eyes flashed fire for a moment, but then he nodded. The
shape-shifter holding Rick up withdrew her arms, and he slumped to the
ground. Marsha, moving slowly so as not to startle anyone into shooting,
moved over to help him up.
     "Now what?" Allan sneered.
     Veronica considered this. "Now, 'Fat' Boy, you are going to order
this Bucket-O-Soldiers team to climb back into the helicopter and retreat
themselves the hell out of here."
     "And what makes you think I'll do anything of the sort?"
     "The same thing that makes me think that you're a cowardly little
smeg who'd piss his pants if I even threaten to move this knife one inch
deeper," Veronica returned, letting the tip of the knife just prick the
skin of Allan's throat enough to let a stream of blood run out.
     Allan let out a whimper than was rather high pitched. "All right, all
right." Turning his eyes (he daren't to move his head if he could help it)
to the soldiers, he ordered, "You heard her. Get out of here. Pull back to
a twenty kilometer radius and await further instructions."
     The soldiers didn't move, but Veronica's knife did. "Now, damn you,
now!" Allan yelled, his voice reaching the upper registers. The soldiers
finally moved, and Marsha and Rick breathed sighs of relief as the
soldiers boarded the helicopters, and the rotors folded out.
     Veronica kept her position, knife ready, as the copters pulled up
into the air, and faded away into the distance. Finally, she let her arm
go, and pushed Allan away from her, who sprawled on the beach at her feet.
     Allan panted heavily, but drew enough breath to spit on Veronica's
feet. "This isn't over," he said.
     Ignoring the spittle, Veronica sat down on her haunches, dangling the
knife in plain sight. "Indeed it isn't," she concurred. "Because you're
going to help us."
     "Go to hell," Allan replied.
     "Already there," Veronica said. "And I've already found a nice room
for you to move into as soon as you join me."
     "What the cruk are you talking about?"
     "Where is the Staff of Ha'ano?"
     "I have no idea what you're talking about," Allan said.
     Veronica cocked her head to one side. "You're Faq Boy, yes?"
     "That's 'Answer Man' to you."
     Veronica shrugged. "Whatever. But I have a question for you: Where is
the Staff of Ha'ano?"
     Allan snorted. "That's hardly 'frequently asked'."
     "I've always wondered how often a question has to be asked before it
is 'frequently' asked. Let's find out, shall we? Where is the Staff of
     Looking more annoyed than anything else, Allan said, "It doesn't work
like that. The question has to come up naturally, be asked by people who
don't know they're asking a question others asked before them. You can't
just repeat the same question over and over and think I'll just magically
know the answer if you ask it often enough."
     "Where is the Staff of Ha'ano?"
     "Geez, if that's your idea of a great way to waste time, then you can
frocking well just kill me now."
     "Okay," Veronica said, and lunged forwards.
     Allan quickly scrambled back. "Okay, okay," he said, raising his
hands defensively. "Just lay off."
     "Where is the Staff of Ha'ano?"
     "That's not going to work!" Allan snapped, frustration now evident in
his voice. "I told you, it's all about context."
     "You're the one who keeps going on about how knowledge is power,"
Veronica said. "I'm just asking you to show a little power. Where is the
Staff of Ha'ano?"
     "I don't crukking know!" Allan yelled. "Just cruk off already!"
     "Where is the-"
     "Mom, give it a rest will you?" Rick said, now back to looking normal
(although normal for him was a wreck for anyone else). "We're obviously
not going to get anything out of him that way."
     "Have you got any better ideas?" Veronica asked. "Or do you want to
spend the rest of your life digging this island over? Assuming that the
Staff of Ha'ano is even on the island of Ha'ano."
     "What do you want this Staff for anyway?" Allan asked.
     "This," said Veronica, pointing to the symbol on her forehead. "I
want to know what this is doing on my head!"
                                |      /
                              _-+-_  /
                            /   |  /\
                           |    |/   |
                           |   /|    |
                           \/_ | _ /
                           /   -+-
                         /      |
     Allan laughed, but no-one else looked too happy. "What?" Veronica
     "You want information, and you didn't come to us? Oh, my dear,
ex-Queen. Information is our business, and, believe me, business is very
     "Yet you don't know where the Staff of Ha'ano is," Veronica said.
     Allan nodded at the symbol. "With that, we could easily run searches
to find any trace of information about it, and if that includes the Staff
of Ha'ano, then fine."
     "And just how would you go about this search? I don't exactly see any
computers on you."
     "This is the age of miniturisation," Allan replied grandiously. "Cell
phones, button cams, bugs smaller than your fingernail. Personally, I
prefer the pencil phone, don't like something so small you can loose it
bending over, and I can write with it too. Try to stop killing me for a
moment, and I might be able to help you."
     "And just why is that?" Marsha asked. "You want her dead, not to help
     "I have to admit you've created a sense of curiosity in me," Allan
replied. Testing the more relaxed atmosphere, he slowly stood up, and
smiled falsely when no-one tried to kill him. "There are things I don't
know, such as that," he nodded at the symbol, "and just what the Staff of
Ha'ano is. Now, you can stick that knife in me-"
     "Yes," agreed Veronica. "We can."
     "But," he said firmly, "you'll also be getting rid of the only chance
you have of getting through this before you die of old age."
     The other three looked at each other. "I'm out of ideas," Marsha
     "It's up to you, mom," Rick said.
     Veronica grimaced. "Fine, but this doesn't mean I won't kill you as
soon as we do find the Staff."
     "I expect nothing less," Allan replied, and raised his hands towards
his jacket pocket, but froze as Veronica moved the knife to glint in the
sun. "The pencil phone, remember? I need to get it out." After pausing a
moment, and getting no response, Allan completed his movements and
retrieved the pencil phone from his pocket.
     Giving the pencil a shake to activate it, he brought it to his head.
"Give me information retrieval...I don't care, just get it done...Right,
run this search...no, this is priority or you'll be scrubbing buckets in
five minutes..." Allan rolled his eyes, and made a 'what can you do?'
gesture with his eyes. "Finally. Okay, run a search for anything you have
on something called the Staff of Ha'ano, and also cross-reference to this
symbol." Quickly, Allan pointed the pencil at Veronica and a momentary
beam of light hit her forehead.
     Veronica stood an angry step forward, but Allan raised his hand
placatingly. "Just a picture, my dear," he said to her.
     "The symbol is called the Seal of Tonac," Veronica offered.
     "Now she tells me," Allan muttered, but repeated the name. "Give me
the complete break...really? Okay, we'll check it out but keep looking for
anything else."
     Shaking the pencil to deactivate it, Allan put it away in his pants,
smirking. "Lots like you've already got lucky with me."
     "Somehow I think that will never happen," Veronica returned.
     "And yet, I'm still going to help you. Around about the centre of
this island a place called Pukotala, a village that was here long ago but
faded away. The village was excavated years ago, and they found a few
items of interest that were moved to a museum. Nothing like a staff, but
that could be well worth checking out. I suggest we head there while we
wait to see if my staff can find out anything else."
     "You first," said Veronica, then leaned in close as Allan pass to
hiss, "And if you call me 'my dear' one more time, you'll find that I can
be very expensive indeed."
     Veronica gave her own smirk at the flash of fear in Allan's eyes,
then shoved him into the jungle.


Although it was a relatively small island, it was still large enough to
get easily lost on. Eventually, Rick had to morph into a bird to espy the
island from above. Easily spotting the open area of the village, he was
able to guide them to that destination.
     The term 'village' wasn't exactly accurate anymore. Although there
were two rough huts, they looked recently constructed, as examples of what
was once here. The ground was dug up in many locations, with general signs
of archeology present, but no signs of any staffs.
     "I'm not entirely sure we're better off," Veronica mused.
     Allan shrugged. "I never said it was here, just that this was a
likely location," he pointed out, fanning himself with his hand. By now he
had his jacket off, showing off several large stains under his armpits.
     "Then perhaps you wouldn't mind starting the digging," Veronica said.
"Oh, about a hundred square meters to start with should do."
     Allan opened his mouth to reply, but suddenly slapped his hand on his
pants pocket. "Saved by the phone," he glared at her, then extracted his
pencil phone again.
     "What?....you have?...volcano?..."
     "What? What volcano?" Rick asked, eyes wide.
     Allan waved a hand at Rick to shut him up. "Yes, I see.
When?...okay." Flicking the pencil off, Allan replaced it, then beamed at
them all.
     "So?" Rick prompted. "What volcano?"
     "You'll find out...NOW!" he suddenly shouted, diving for the ground.
Veronica, who had been tense as soon as he started smiling, quickly
followed suit.
     Leaving Rick and Marsha exposed.
     A hailstorm of bullets exploded into the air, shattering the silence
around them with a cacophony of sound that accompanied the strike of death
from the barrel of a gun.
     Marsha and Rick danced in the impact, and only when the storm passed
did they collapse onto the ground.
     Veronica lunged for Allan, but didn't even make half the distance
before she was covered from every angle by the return of the soldiers with
guns. "You crukking smeg of an arsehole son of a bastard," she swore.
"I'll make it the mission of the rest of my life to stick you, gut you,
and make your every moment a living agony of pain that would make even the
Cenobites flinch. I'll-"
     "I thought you said we didn't matter," Rick's voice spoke up.
     "You don't," Veronica said, but was unable to completely disguise the
note of relief in her voice. "But I've always wanted to threaten someone
like that."
     "And that, my dear," Allan sneered, as he got up, "is just one of the
many mistakes in your life." Turning to the soldiers, he said, "Get the
copters here. We've wasted enough time."
     Marsha groaned, and managed to get on her hands and knees. "Hey," she
said, surveying herself. "That was a damn good shirt you ruined!" It was
now stained with pink where the bullets had gone through her marshmallow
body. "You'll be getting a bill from my tailor over this!"
     "And you'll be seeing the inside of a jail cell as soon as we get
back to civilisation," Allan said matter of factly. "Burgenstock stock is
     "Was there ever a volcano?" Rick asked, shaking the bullets out of
his fluid body.
     "The Staff of Ha'ano was swallowed by a volcano," Allan recited in a
bored, sing-song voice. "To find it, you'll have to find, and get inside,
the volcano itself."
     "Which is where?"
     "There's a buried entrance to north, or so we think."
     "Then that's where we're going," Rick said with a tone of finality.
     "Where you're going," Allan replied, "you'll wish you were inside an
active volcano." Shading his eyes, he spotted the helicopters homing in on
their position. As the first one came in for a touch down, he said, "Not
that you'll live long enough to care either way."
     Two of the four helicopters, the two most distant, exploded into
fireballs, one moment there, the next gone. Before anyone had time to
blink, the third helicopter joined the first two in fiery destruction.
     The people on the ground could see the pilot in the last helicopter
trying to reverse the landing, take off and get away. Time slowed down,
and the people could see the line of fire that streaked through the air,
see the fire reach out and engulf the copter in one swallow, instantly
incinerating it and all inside.
     They turned, their heads moving as one as though on a string, and saw
a woman in black, with streaks of red and white on her body. Her blond
hair streamed out through the air around her like a halo, and she was an
angel of death.
     The Net.Elementalist touched down on the ground, ignoring the burning
wreckage beside her. Her outfit became predominantly white, and Marsha,
Rick and Veronica became aware that only the four of them were moving.
     "You just couldn't do it, could you?" The Net.Elementalist said.
     "Do what?" Rick asked.
     "You said you wouldn't cause any trouble, yet what is this?" she
asked, gesturing about her.
     "This wasn't our fault," Rick said. "Blame him."
     "Oh, believe me, we are just starting here." She nodded at Allan.
"And he's going to get some very personal attention. I can still remember
how he tried to claim me after I gained control of my powers. And not for
any personal reasons."
     "Fine," put in Veronica. "You deal with these guys, and we'll
continue looking for the Staff of Ha'ano."
     "You haven't even found that yet?"
     "We have a good lead," Veronica said, slightly huffy. "We can't all
of us fly around and destroy things."
     "Although some of us have had a pretty good go of it," said Rick,
remembering exactly how Veronica returned to Earth, and of how
Sin.ci.net.ty didn't live to tell the tale.
     "We going or you whining?" Veronica said. "Which way is north?"
     The Net.Elementalist pointed. "I'll give you a head start before
getting stuck in here," she said. "Although lagging them down to really
make what will happen stretch out has its points."
     The note of sadism in her voice made the other three all shiver, but
now wasn't the time to deal with that. Nodding to her, they made their way
out of the village.
     The Net.Elementalist walked over to stand directly in front of Allan.
Uncle Allan, as he had insisted at the trial. Sanctimonious bastard.
     Allan saw the helicopter on the ground exploded, then something
blurred, and now the face of a young woman he knew too well was right in
front of him.
     "You would dare to come here," she growled, staring into his fearful
eyes with cold burning ones. "To *my* islands." Around them, he could see
out of the corners of his eyes that the soldiers were taking aim, but also
knew the gesture was nothing more than futile. "Well, 'Uncle Allan', let's
see if blood really is thicker than water."


Marsha threw a look over her shoulder, but the village was far behind them
now. "Will she hurt him?" she asked.
     Rick shrugged. "Probably. Who cares?"
     Marsha looked at Rick. "Once, you would have."
     "I grew older," Rick said shortly.
     Marsha let Veronica pull ahead before saying. "She really hurt you,
didn't she?"
     Rick didn't meet her eyes. "I don't want to talk about it."
     "You never do. You keep that bottled up inside, trying to ignore it.
Like with Abby."
     "She left me long before she actually walked out," Rick finally said.
     "You knew she was seeing CAPTAIN CAPATILIZE?"
     "Please," Rick said dryly. "I wasn't stupid. I just thought...I
dunno, it was a fling or something. She would come back."
     They walked in silence for a while.
     "We were happy once," Rick said, breaking the silence abruptly. "We
were happy to just be with one another."
     "What happened?" Marsha asked gently.
     Rick shrugged. "I drank. Abby grew up, putting pressure on our lives.
But that's just excuses for us growing apart."
     "I always had trouble picturing the two of you together," Marsha
said, her tone forcefully light.
     "Yeah, well, that didn't help either. Men are bad enough at foreplay
anyway, but when you can't even be sure what you're touching..."
     "Ew, please, more than I want to know," Marsha said. "But...you and
Fuzzy...I don't think anyone would have seen that coming."
     "We didn't either, for a while, but that's love. Not rational, but
relentless as a freight train..."
     "And that just brings us back to unpleasant images."
     The silence returned, but a more comfortable one.
     Finally, Rick said, "You know, once, I might have thought that we..."
     "Yeah," said Marsha. "Me too. But..."
     They smiled faintly at each other, then looked forwards just in time
to see Veronica disappear with a yell that cut off abruptly.
     The duo hurried forwards to find a hole in the landscape, up from
which rose faint but audible cursing and swearing in a multitude of
languages, not all of them from Earth.
     "Your mother doesn't seem to have any problem expressing herself,"
Marsha said mildly.
     Rick sighed. "At least she isn't hurt. Come on." Stretching himself
down, Rick disappeared into the gloom of the Earth, forming himself into a
ladder as he did so to allow Marsha to climb down after him.
     Below, they found Veronica attending to a shallow cut on her head,
trying to staunch the light flow by the simple expediency of pressing on
     "Are you all right?" Rick asked, flowing back into human form.
     "I'll be fine," Veronica replied shortly. "But it looks like we found
the tunnel."
     Marsha peered around. "Well, yes, but it's rather dark. Did anyone
bring a light?"
     "Allow me," Rick said, forming his left hand into a lantern. The
light showed they were indeed in a tunnel than ran off in both directions.
     "Okay, now which way?"
     "Hmm." Rick reached out with his right hand, and his arm suddenly
telescoped in one direction. "Oof. That way's blocked," he reported,
bringing his hand back. Turning, he sent it in the other direction.
"Hmm...nothing as far as I can reach, and I think that way's a little
warmer." Retracting his hand, he shrugged. "May as well try that."
     "Yes, well, many people have said that," said Veronica, getting to
her feet. "And few live to tell the tale. Lay on, MacDuff."
     "Isn't that 'Lead on, MacDuff'?" Rick asked as he took the lead.
     "Only if you haven't read the actual play," Marsha replied.
     "We didn't all have time for a classical education," Rick muttered.
"Some of us had a hard enough time just getting by day to day."
     The conversation went downhill from there, until they were tramping
along in silence. At least, until Veronica spoke.
     "Is it just me or is there light up ahead?"
     They stopped, and Rick dimmed his lantern, until, yes, they could see
a faint red glow in the distance.
     "We've been traveling downwards for a while," Rick said. "No idea how
far underground we are. But this could be the volcano up ahead."
     "No sense in running into lava," Marsha replied. "Let's just take
this slowly, shall we?"
     Taking it slowly meant that even more time passed before the tunnel
they were in started to widen around them. The red light opened up to be a
reflected glow, and soon they were at the edge of a large cavern. Tunnels
led off it, and redness flowed out of them. As well as heat. In fact, it
was noticeably warm now.
     "Do we split up?" Rick asked.
     "That one," said Veronica, pointing to a tunnel to the left.
     "How do you know?" Marsha asked.
     "It's the one where the light is brightest. If the Staff was
swallowed by a volcano, we need to get to the heart, and that looks to be
the most direct route."
     As Veronica headed into the new tunnel, with Marsha close behind,
Rick said "Has anyone wondered why, if this is so easy, no-one has come
for the Staff before?"
     "You said yourself," Veronica voice floated back. "The tunnel was
blocked. And I doubt anyone else came across that wonderful entrance we
     Rick doubted the answer was that easy, but didn't have any other
option than to follow them. As he left, he failed to see the stream of
dirt fall from the ceiling to the ground.
     Inside the tunnel the temperature increased rapidly, leading to them
all starting to sweat. Fanning themselves for whatever relief that could
provide, the heat also sapped their senses, so when they stumbled out into
another large cavern, it took them some time to realize they had come to
the end of their journey.
     Before them was a large rock, positioned in roughly the centre of the
cavern. The rock was positioned on a small area of, well, more rock. But
around that rock was a moat of molten lava, that bubbled and spat hot
fluid through the air. In the large rock on the rock surrounded by the
moat was a staff, poking at an angle from the rock. The top was a glass
sphere, looking too fragile to exist in this hostile environment. There
was something in the sphere, an image of some kind, but for now they were
too far away to make it out clearly.
     "This looks way too artificial," Rick said, after they took the scene
in. "Is anyone else getting a weird Tomb Raider feeling right now?"
     "I was going to go for an Artherian analogy," Marsha said. "But I
suppose yours is just as good."
     "Thank you for lowering yourself to meet me," Rick muttered, barely
holding the sarcasm in.
     "Quiet," Veronica snapped. "We've gone through a lot to get here, and
now we just need to get that Staff. Rick."
     Rick stood there for a moment, before realizing that she wasn't just
saying his name. "What?"
     Veronica rolled her eyes. "Will you just get over there and grab that
     "Oh. Right." Rick moved over to a wall, and became smaller, lighter,
and possessed many more agile limbs. Climbing the walls with oddly
disturbing skittering movements, Rick moved out onto the ceiling, and
crawled over until he was positioned over the rock with the Staff.
Dropping down he passed through many forms before landing as a cat.
Changing back to a human, he examined the Staff carefully.
     "Hey," he announced. "There's a small image of Ha'ano in here! Guess
it really is the Staff of Ha'ano." Reaching out, he grabbed the Staff, and
gave it a heave. Although the Staff didn't move much, the results...
     The ground beneath them shook. In fact, the whole cavern shook,
sending them sprawling onto the ground as an earthquake ripped through the
room. Rock crashed down from above, and Marsha barely managed to roll out
of the way as several stalactites fell, threatening to turn her into a pin
     The rumbling slowly died down, and they took a moment to gather their
wits and cough up a lungful or two of dust.
     "Okay, new rule, don't do that again," Marsha said.
     "Hey, don't blame me," Rick said defensively. "I had no idea that was
going to happen, and you guys didn't seem to leap to the brakes."
     "Relax, we're not blaming you," Veronica said. "Just...don't touch it
for now."
     "Then how, exactly, do you expect to use it to remove the Seal of
Tonac?" Rick asked.
     "Guess Mohammed will have to go to the mountain after all," Veronica
replied. "Stretch over to us, and we'll climb over there."
     "Easy for you to say," Rick grumbled. "You're not the one who'll be
hanging over scorching lava."
     Despite the moaning, Rick stretched out, as high as he could, up and
over the lava to land on the other side, and formed himself into a ladder.
Veronica climbed over quickly, but Marsha was only halfway when a
viciously hot burst of lava spat from the moat and landed on Rick.
     Rick immediately, involuntary, retracted away from the pain, pulling
himself to the Staff side of the moat, but leaving Marsha to fall through
the air. However, Rick's motion had imparted enough movement to her to
make her fall with a heavy thud just on the inside edge of the lava.
     She lay there for a moment, gasping painfully, but rolled quickly as
the lava threatened to strike out again.
     "On the list of things not to do again," Marsha muttered, then
suddenly raised her hand to her hand. "Hey, where's my hat?"
     Veronica pointed, and Marsha managed to turn just in time to see the
brim falling below the surface of the lava. "Damn, that was an expensive
hat," she mourned.
     "Never mind that," Veronica said. "This Staff is what we need to
concentrate on at the moment."
     Marsha, just managing to struggle to her feet after the fall, shared
a look with Rick, also standing up while nursing a bad burn on his side.
"She just has no clue," Marsha said quietly. "Does it hurt?"
     "Like smeg," Rick replied. "But, as she said, never mind that now,"
he mimicked.
     Veronica ignored them, and bent over to get a closer look at the
Staff, especially where it went into the rock. "I don't think it is stuck
in there," she finally announced. "It just needs to be slid out exactly
along the angle that it is stuck in there."
     She considered it further. "In fact, I doubt it is particular to
Ha'ano," she said. "Probably only became known as the Staff of Ha'ano
after some idiot shoved it in this rock and caused the very volcano that
was said to have swallowed it up. Stick it in any island, or whatever, and
you'll probably get the same effect. Only a different picture in here,"
Veronica said, tapping the sphere at the end.
     Another tremour vibrated through the cavern, and they all froze. But,
apart from more dirt cascading from the ceiling, nothing else bad
     "I thought we said not to touch it," Marsha said crossly.
     "Yes, but I can probably slide it out carefully enough..." Veronica
raised her hand to try, but Marsha grabbed her.
     "No," Marsha replied forcefully.
     "Then how are we to use this to remove the Seal?" Rick asked.
     "Not sure." Veronica bit her lip contemplatively. "Perhaps if I
simply touch the symbol to the Staff, that might be enough to break the
     "Or it could bury us all," Rick said. "But I can't think of anything
else to try."
     Veronica knelt down, her eyes fixed intently on the Staff. "Okay. I'm
going to do this. Everyone else keep very still." Moving forward slowly,
she placed her head up against the glass sphere.
     And screamed.
     Veronica fell backwards, light blazing from the symbol on her
forehead. Marsha barely managed to grab Rick in time to stop him from
grabbing Veronica and making matters worse. Veronica twitched violently,
flopping about like a fish out of water, then fell limp, the light fading
     And as the light faded, it drew the symbol away with it, etching it
away in reverse, leaving perfect skin behind.
     "What the hell is going on down here!?" a voice yelled. Rick and
Marsha turned to see the Net.Elementalist standing in the entrance to the
cavern and looking pissed. They couldn't tell exactly in the lava-light,
but it almost looked like there was blood on her face.
     "Abby, stay back," Rick called back. "This whole area is unstable.
One ill-timed burst of power, and we will all literally be crushed to
     Abby scowled. "Are you saying I can't control myself?"
     "What? No, not that at all," Rick said.
     Abby jumped into the air, her lag powers keeping her up and letting
her float over to join them on the rock. As she passed over the moat, the
lava slowed down, but returned to normal speed as she landed.
     "What happened to her?" Abby said, as she spied the prone form of
     "She got the Seal removed," Rick replied, and he went to kneel by
her, putting a hand to her neck to check her pulse. "I'm sure she'll be
fine. Removing the Seal must have knocked her out."
     Abby, meanwhile, was nearing the rock in the centre. "And is this the
Staff you've been looking for?"
     "Yes," replied Marsha, crossing over to Abby's side. "But don't touch
it. It seems connected to this island in a very dangerous way. Did you
notice an earthquake before?"
     Abby nodded. "Yes, that's why I came down here."
     Marsha and Abby whirled to see Rick leaning over Veronica's mouth.
"Her heart stopped," he said quickly. "I think she's dying."
     "Try CPR," replied Marsha, dropping to his side.
     "I...I don't..."
     "Move aside." Pushing Rick away, Marsha quickly and efficiently moved
Veronica's head back to clear her airways, checked to make sure there was
no breath, then confirmed the lack of circulation of the blood herself.
     "Right, I can do this," Marsha said, quickly locating the correct
spot to press down on on Veronica's chest, "but we might need to get out
of here quickly."
     Rick turned to Abby. "Can you fly her out of here?"
     Abby nodded. "But I don't think we'll be quick enough. I'll clear us
a path out of here."
     Before Rick could say anything, Abby launched herself up, aiming for
the ceiling. Turning her flame powers on high, Abby hit the ceiling with a
blast of flame.
     "No!" Rick yelled, but it was already too late. The cavern, already
unstable, finally started to collapse around them, sending chunks of rock
crashing to the floor.
     Acting quickly, Abby switched over to lag to slow the rocks down, but
not even that would stop the now inevitable destruction.
     "I've got a pulse!" Marsha yelled, that was quickly followed by the
sound of Veronica coughing.
     "We've still got to get her out of here!" Rick yelled.
     "Working on it!" While she kept the rocks from failing, Abby was
still also tunneling up to the surface with flame, but the division of
concentrating was making progress slow.
     "Mom, can you hear me?" Rick said, kneeling down beside Veronica.
"We've got to get out of here now."
     Veronica coughed and groaned, trying to shake her head back into
     "Be careful," Marsha said, holding Veronica's head still. "We don't
know what that Staff did to you."
     "I...I remember!" Veronica said, elated.
     "I'm out!" came a voice from far away as Abby finally rocketed
through the top of the island.
     "I know...I..."
     Abby flew into the air...and out of the range of the rocks in the
     Which came crashing down. On the floor. On the moat. And on to the
     The ground dropped away beneath them, then slammed into them again in
a violent heave. Lava erupted from the moat, spewing upwards. The ceiling
broke away entirely, but left more rock behind to then crash down.
     Amidst this, Veronica struggled to speak. "Barry," she coughed.
"Barry, don't worry. This doesn't have to happen."
     Rick tried to become harder than the rock, but was slammed around by
continual, building earthquake, and more lava exploded into the room
through the walls.
     "Don't let him win!" Veronica screamed.
     Marsha lay there, where she had been thrown, watching the oncoming
lava with quiet finality.
     "It doesn't have to be real!"


Several hours later, as the sun went down, Abby stood on the balcony of
her palace on Tongatapu, shaking in the cooling air. Princess Tupou held
her tightly, stroking her head gently.
     "I...I tried...the island...it disappeared beneath the sea..." Abby
said in short breaths. "I searched, but..."
     "Hush, hoku 'ofa," Princess Tupou said. "It's not your fault."
     "But it is!" Abby cried out, and now the tears came. "He was my
father...and I killed him."
     "You didn't mean to," Princess Tupou said, but she knew how hollow
that sounded.
     "Please, just hold me."
     As the sun faded away, darkness fell on the two lovers, and over the
ocean. Beneath the waves were the remains of Ha'ano island, including the
people who were still on it when it sank, now forever lost to the world.
     And the world would never be the same again...

NEXT ISSUE: One man, one blade. And one lot of trouble for the Alt.Riders.

CREDITS: All mine.

NOTES: Okay, I'll confess. Some of this arc will happen. Some of it won't.
Some of it will, but not the way presented here.
     Think of this as what happens if the writer stopped right here. This
is the future they currently have. Whether or not they keep it remains to
be seen.

Jamas Enright
"Answers answered and questions questioned."
Homepage: http://www.eyrie.org/~thad/
Blue Light Productions homepage: http://www.eyrie.org/~thad/blip/

"If a great state has decided by law that twice two is five, it would be
foolish to allow mathematicians to testify." - Comment during the Scopes
Monkey Trial.

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