[ASH] Coherent Super Stories featuring Ladyhawke #8: Reunion
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Fri Sep 21 07:27:46 PDT 2007
The cover shows ghostly figures of various supernormals rising through a
Chicago cityscape, looking skyward. Most are generic costumed sorts, but
front and center is Ladyhawke. Also recognizable are Powerhouse, the
Wanderer, Brightsword, and both Lady Lawfuls. Conspicuously absent are
Weapons Master and Jiang Shang.
.|, COHERENT An ASHistory Series
'|` SUPER STORIES #8 - The End Times Part III: Reunion
Featuring Ladyhawke copyright 2007 by Dave Van Domelen
[July 3, 1998 - Evanston, IL]
Amy paused to look at her son, standing at the doorway waiting for her.
"Mom, I swear, if you say how much I look like Dad, I'll set fire to
your shrubs," Rodney sighed.
"What did the azaleas ever do to you?" she smirked. "Okay, okay. I'm
just glad you stopped dyeing your hair all those weird colors and let it go
back to its natural color."
"Well, don't get too used to it," Rodney sighed. "One of my first stops
when I hit D.C. today is gonna be the salon. They want me back in costume,
all the way, down to the roots. For the big patriotic dog and pony show
Amy hugged her son. "Don't let it get to you, Roddy. I know ASH was a
big part of your life, but..."
"But when Set's the average power level on the team, I know it's time to
get out of Dodge, yeah," he sighed again as Amy stepped back. "That, and the
doctors say I've had a few too many concussions anyway. Did you know, they
used to call being beaten unconscious 'Radland' because it happened to me so
much back in the day? Damn, to think I'd miss spending afternoons half
"Still, they do want you back," Amy countered.
Rodney nodded. "They're finally reviving the old KC branch, and want me
to lend my experience. The main team may be all avatars now, but there's
still plenty of other people down at my level that want to fight the good
fight. I just wish I'd gotten the LA branch...I'd rather put up with the
BDSM jokes I'd get leading LAASH," he pronounced it "lash", "than be the
radioative man who restarted the nuked team.
Amy nodded silently. Back in 1991, half of the old KCASH had died in
the nuclear inferno that consumed Wichita, and the team had disbanded soon
after. No one really wanted to be part of a group that had failed so
"Although it could be worse," Rodney shrugged. "They could be trying to
set up a St. Louis branch. I have enough crazy fangirls already without
leading a team called SLASH."
"Why not rename the KC team?"
Rodney shook his head. "Politics. Missouri's senior senator is really
pushing for this to try to rehabilitate the city's image. I think he's in
for a rude awakening, but hey, it's not like this is the job I want to be
able to retire from. And I got a deal on finishing off my degree at UMKC,
very forgiving transfer credits."
"Just don't get too busy too soon. You know I expect you to get free
for your birthday," Amy reminded her son. "We're going to dig up the old
vault in Detroit...what with your plans to unmask, I figure we might as well
go whole hog and let the world know about me and your father too."
Rodney nodded. "Don't worry. Worst case scenario, there's a speedster
on the KCASH roster who can give me a ride."
Left unsaid were the arguments they'd had about the matter. Not for
Amy's sake, but she worried about Rodney. Rad was considered to be very
dangerous, but not terribly durable in proportion to what he could dish
out...bulletproof, but not antitank-weapon-proof. A lot of villains had a
boldfaced and highlighted entry in their playbook reading "take Rad out
before he can get off a shot", and revealing his identity could change that
to "assassinate Rad in a coffee shop". Still, she'd eventually conceded that
he needed to do something significant and potentially stupid to mark his 21st
birthday...it's not like he could even get drunk, thanks to his enhanced
"Well, be sure to call when you get there," Amy admonished. "And try to
at least get a hair coloring that you can turn off! I hear they've got a new
Rodney nodded. "Will do. But I think my powers'd fry the poor little
nanos, Ravenfire tried something like that for me a couple years ago," he
smirked, and walked to his rental car. Sure, he could have flown off on a
disc of energy, but for the moment he was still at least making a token
attempt to hide his secret.
Amy wondered if she'd be more or less worried once the world knew she
had been the famous Ladyhawke?
* * * *
[July 5, 1998 - Chicago, IL]
"Ah, Sunday morning in the ER," Amy sighed. With so many literally
miraculous cancer cures lately and an upswing in violence, she'd been
spending more time in the ER and less in Oncology lately. "You'd think
people'd take a few hours off from shooting at each other to go to church."
Carolyn Fine, Amy's number two on the shift, snorted. "Right. And
which church might that be? I'm pretty sure Ares doesn't much care about
keeping the Sabbath holy," she gestured at a nearby bed. On it was a young
man with an axe tattooed on his arm and a gut covered in bandages and tubes.
"Come to think of it, I think this punk *was* keeping the Sabbath holy, in
his own way. Whoops, needed at bed seven," she rushed off.
A few seconds later, an alarm sounded from that very bed. One thing
that made Carolyn so valued in the Trauma Center was her very minor
precognitive talent. Being able to "defocus" and glimpse a few seconds ahead
might not let her win the lottery or anything like that, but it did give her
a decisive edge in the emergency room. Especially when you had to administer
drugs to a patient without knowing his allergies...she'd stopped more than a
dozen serious reactions from happening just this year.
Making sure Carolyn's patient wouldn't need more help, Amy took stock of
the room. Busy. Maybe not as busy as it could get sometimes, but busier
than a Sunday morning used to be at Northwestern Memorial. Hell, Chicago
wasn't even a paranormal hotspot anymore, and they were still getting the
kinds of stuff that used to only happen back when ASH was having a really bad
day. Before they got thrown out of town in the wake of that shadow dragon
At least the residents were all alert and on their feet. She strongly
suspected that most of them were praying to one god or another for this level
of wakefulness...the gods might be causing all this bad craziness in the
first place, the least they could do in return was give healers the strength
to keep up, Amy figured.
Mind you, the fact that at least some of them were praying to Priapus
for endurance did make the hospital a little more of a soap opera than
"NOOOO!" Carolyn screamed, going into what for all the world looked like
a grand mal fit.
Amy whipped around, barking orders and getting her friend restrained.
Fortunately, another side effect of the general level of crazy in the world
was that they kept plenty of passive restraints around, like kinetic dampers
that could be slapped on anyone and slow them to a crawl without injuring
One of the residents was about to pry Lyn's eye open to check pupil
response when she went limp and gasped raggedly.
"Death is coming," the precog whispered, finally. "Not today, but it's
so big even I can see it over the horizon. Everyone's going to die, Amy,"
she looked up pleadingly. "EVERYONE."
* * * *
[July 6, 1998 - Evanston, IL]
The TV was a comforting, mindless drone in the background as Amy lay
sprawled across the living room sofa. After how badly Sunday went downhill,
she was truly grateful that Monday was her day off this week. She'd slept
badly, waking repeatedly from nightmares, and even her paranormal resilience
wasn't enough to shake off that sort of thing anymore.
Suddenly, what she'd been half-watching was replaced by a "BREAKING
NEWS" screen. Amy sat up and turned up the volume. Years after Roddy had
started his career, she still had an ingrained reflex about newsbreaks. The
next one could be talking about his death in battle.
"DISASTER AT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER!" screamed the chyron in the lower
third of the screen. The local news anchor looked pressed and professional,
though, as they always seemed to do no matter how bad things got.
"We have breaking news from Manhattan, where it seems that Odin has sent
his so-called Choosers of the Slain out to gather his faithful, whether or
not they happened to be dead at the time. For more, we go to WNBC for live
The newsroom image was replaced by mobile crew footage of the World
Trade Center, with flying horses and their riders streaming in and out of
both of the main towers. The chyron changed to read "Amelia Cho, WNBC -
"Minutes ago, what can only be described as an army of valkyries left
One Trade Center led by the Academy of Super-Heroes' own Valkyrie, Maria
Castillo. Almost immediately, they returned with what appeared to be the
corpses of hundreds of people. Confused reports are filtering in, but as far
as anyone can tell, everyone in the New York City area who is a known Aesir-
worshipper has been taken by these maidens of battle, either slain or at
least rendered comatose by their touch and carried off to Odin's earthly
Valhalla in the World Trade Center. One onlooker described it as a 'culling
of the Einerjar' before he himself was taken."
"Oh my God," Amy finally gasped. Odin was "rewarding" his worshippers
with membership among his Honored Dead, emphasis on the dead part. Was that
what Lyn was seeing? And how could Maria be participating in this? She and
Amy weren't exactly close friends, but as holdovers from the Second Age
they'd spent the occasional night out on the town, reminiscing, before Maria
was rejuvenated and called back to serve.
"Oh my God," Amanda Cho echoed. "Can you get a closeup of the windows?"
The image zoomed in on one of the towers. "Yes, they're stacking the bodies
up in there like cordwood. There must be tends of thousands of adherents of
the various Norse gods, could Odin be planning on bringing them all here?
And does this mean that the fabled Ragnarok is imminent?" The last was said
with a sense of dawning horror by the reporter. "Are the gods done waging a
war of advertising and public relations and getting ready to pull out the
swords to fight their final battle?"
* * * *
[Between The Seconds]
The television screen was frozen in mid-flicker, the lower third of the
image faded almost completely and only the middle chunk at "normal"
brightness. For a moment, she considered that time couldn't have totally
stopped, or photons wouldn't be moving and she wouldn't be able to see
anything. Then again, stopping time required breaking the rules of physics
anyway, so who could say?
"Mrs. Baines," a slightly accented voice interrupted her reverie, and
she turned to find two people standing in her living room. One wore a
pocket-covered and tie-dyed flack jacket, ripped jeans, goggles and a bemused
expression. The other exuded Old World elegance in his three piece suit and
neatly trimmed vandyke beard. Given what had just happened, neither's
presence was really that shocking.
"Tymythy Twystyd and the Wanderer," she stood and faced them. "To what
do I owe the pleasure of this visit on the occasion of the end of the world?"
she asked, somewhat bitterly.
"Believe me, there is no pleasure to this," the Wanderer replied in his
vaguely Romanian accent. "And you are right, this is the end of the world,
at least the end of the world as we know it."
"And I don't feel fine," Tym quipped. The Wanderer simply ignored this,
as if the joke was so old it didn't even merit an eye-roll. The Canadian
spacetime mage shrugged, "We're stepping between moments to have one last
talk with everyone as we try to save the world. Or what's left of it,
"What do you need from me?" Amy asked.
"Forgiveness," the Wanderer sighed. "And perhaps understanding. Forces
are already in motion...one way or another, you will not be alive to see the
end of this day." Opening his clenched fist, he revealed a small, shattered
piece of knucklebone. It seemed about the right size to be the joint missing
from the little finger of that hand, but was incredibly old and weathered.
Amy'd heard rumors that the mage had attained immortality by focusing his
soul into the tip of one finger and then hiding that piece of himself where
none could find it. Was that broken bone his?
"Something tells me the understanding might be asking a lot," Amy
Tym plunked down on a chair. "I'll take this round," he told the older
mage. "Looks like I don't have to explain Odin's little trick to you, at
least," he gestured at the partial television image. "Well, that was the
starting gun. The gods have been gathering followers for more than a year
now, handing out supernatural powers like party favors. And now they're
calling due on the bill, like some of us were afraid they might do. The gods
have been at war since before recorded history, y'see, and the power of the
faithful is their main resource. But Odin figured out a new trick, and
everyone's grabbed onto it...why just accept the slow burn of worship when
you can take one massive hit by sucking down their souls all at once?"
"Spiritual crack?" Amy ventured.
Tym nodded. "And Odin just showed everyone how it can be done. Someone
else, no idea who, figured out how to add a full 'rapture' effect and grab
the extra mass-to-energy conversion power along the way, so at least they're
not leaving corpses around now like Odin did. And by now, I mean this
started about ten seconds before we stopped time and started this really
gods-damned long day of work. You're what, the thousandth person we've
visited so far?"
"Approximately, yes," the Wanderer nodded sadly. "With all too many yet
Amy shook her head in disbelief. "So many people! But...that's not the
end of the world, right? There's still people who never gave their faith to
the gods. I know I didn't..."
Tym interrupted. "Cascade effect. The gods took their empowered
faithful first, it was the easiest. That gave them enough of a boost to grab
everyone who had sent a prayer their way, although there's currently a *very*
short delay while they struggle over ownership of the polytheists. Just
enough to let us try one last Hail Mary, if you'll pardon the pun. But once
they sort all that out, they're going to go on to the spirit energy of
everyone on the planet. Then all the animals. Then the plants, the water,
the earth, the air. And then move outward to finish off consuming our entire
reality. They think they might be able to transcend to the next level up,
take on Yahweh or Allah or whoever it is above them, if anyone. A very
"Before you ask, no mere mortal has the power to stop this," the
Wanderer added. "But several months ago, some of us saw the signs and
started to look for something, anything we could do to avert total universal
destruction. The price is high, but the alternative is the end of
everything, and in the end we were forced to pay it. And forced you to pay
it as well."
Amy was silent for a long moment, taking this in. "How many of us have
Tym sighed. "I know what you're thinking. Yes, Rad too. Every single
person on the planet who has the Magene needs to be part of this. We talked
to him earlier...he joked about how he should've taken that diplomatic
mission to Santar, but understood what we have to do."
"You are a healer," the Wanderer said, "so perhaps it is best to explain
it this way. All of us with magical powers are like a disease, a violation
of the natural order. The universe is not alive in the way you or I am, but
it does have aspects to it that are analogous to our bodily processes,
including an immune system."
Amy nodded. "I've heard Anchors described as reality's white blood
"'Zactly," Tym agreed. "But there's more than just that. There's a
sort of...pressure that reality exerts on everyone who uses the Magene. If
your application is fairly consistent, you could say reality scars up around
you, gets used to the ways you do things. True mages, who are more flexible,
run the risk of what we call Backlash, though, as sometimes reality slips and
comes crashing down around us in response to our screwing around with it.
The plan here is to rig one HELL of a Backlash onto the gods, and hopefully
kick them completely out of our reality. Then it all scars over and blocks
them from showing up again for a while, maybe forever, hard to say."
"And the Backlash will kill me?" Amy asked.
"No, we have to kill you to engineer the Backlash," the Wanderer said,
his voice full of remorse. "Removing every carrier of paranormal talent all
at once will leave the building pressure of reality nothing else to push
against. The gods are outside of reality, such is their nature, so they will
not be able to stop the crashing together of reality's defenses."
"Before you ask," Tym shook his head, "we can't just evacuate everyone
to another planet or another dimension. We looked into that. Doing so might
let things scar over eventually, but it'd leave an even bigger tear in stuff
in the short term, and slow down the Backlash just enough that the gods
wouldn't be kicked out until after they'd killed everyone. As it is, they
might still grab some innocents on the way out the door. No, even though
we're using some power stolen from the gods' own actions to power this
ritual, your actual death is a totally natural process, and won't interfere
with anything. Your spirit will go wherever it would have gone if you'd just
been hit by a truck or something. Heck, if there's a higher power that
balances our souls after death, sacrificing yourself to save the world might
get you a bit of a boost on the books. Of course, it also means Wanderer and
I are really hosed, because we're doing all the killing. But sometimes being
the hero means accepting punishment for the means, even if the ends seem to
Amy sat back down. "So. That's it. Die now, or die in a few seconds
and get gobbled up. And we save the world, but all the magic gets sucked out
of it forever."
"Not all, and not forever," the Wanderer shook his head. "Nonliving
magical and technological wonders will remain, as will those entities born of
magic but not capable of using it. The potential for magic will also remain,
and rise again should anyone survive to nurture it. This spell we have
crafted does much, and we pray to whoever above the gods may be listening
that it does enough, but it does not strike all magic from the world for all
"There's gonna be a few bits and pieces left over, yeah," Tym nodded.
"Devastator, that rat bastard, is caught between realities right now and we
can't touch him, so he gets to live. If you call being stuck splintered
across dimensions living. Solar Max went missing in space a while back and
he's so far away we can't get an echo of him, so if he ever finds his way
home he can help pick up the pieces. Your old pal Weapons Master is a norm,
so he'll be around. But most of it's going away until a new batch of super
babies can be born, yeah."
"Well, I hope there's a world for them to grow up in. I guess I'm ready
to go, then. What do you do?" Amy asked. "Open a glowy portal for me to
step through? Have me drink some potion?"
"We're saving the glowy portal for the real hardcases," Tym shrugged,
reaching into one of the pockets on his flak jacket. "But we'd rather keep
things as mundane as we can. Just close your eyes, and think of who you
wanna see on the other side."
She did as he asked. "Come on, Roddy, let's go see your father," were
the last words she said before the bullet from Tym's revolver ended her
life...and helped end an age.
From the end of the Third Heroic Age to the height of the First! In a
tale meant to hearken back to the old Invaders and All-Star Squadron stories,
we'll look at the secret origins of some of the heroes of the First Heroic
Age in Coherent Super Stories #9, "Gilded Age"!
Yes, the end of the world can be a bit of a downer.
Believe it or not, before writing this story I could have summed up
everything I knew about the erection of the Barrier in a sentence or two. It
was a demarcation line, but not something I actually meant to tell stories
about. Just an excuse to wipe away the old and leave a hole for the next
generation to fill. But as I wrote "Immortal Evil" (CSS #6) I realized I
could take the opportunity to write an arc covering the last day of the Third
Age, which would naturally have to be capped off by explaining exactly what
happened on that fateful day in 1998.
As I've said in earlier Author's Notes, back when I started ASH I was
still somewhat into the Church of the Subgenius, which had established
"X-Day" on July 5, 1998 as the end of the world. So I picked July 6 just to
tweak that...the Dobbsists were wrong, but only by a little bit. :) At the
time, that date was still four years down the line...I don't think I planned
to actually commemorate the day by telling the truth of the Barrier, though.
In fact, I wasn't really sure I'd even still be writing ASH at that point.
After all, I'd only been seriously writing online fiction for about two years
as of 1994, and I'd already abandoned one universe (Patrol). I wouldn't have
bet on still doing ASH in four years, let alone thirteen! And, in fact, if
there hadn't been other writers getting involved in ASH, I probably wouldn't
have lasted so long before running out of stories to tell. But collaboration
is one of those things where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,
and even if I still write the majority of ASH universe stories, it's that
leavening of other people's work that keeps me going.
A few notes on the original ASH Champions campaign. "Radland" was our
play group's nickname for "-31 STUN or lower", the "GM's Option" range of
unconsciousness. Basically, it was when you were beaten so badly that you'd
only wake up when the Gamemaster decided you did. And Rad ended up there a
LOT. Once he even got used as a lava scoop while unconscious. I mean, when
you throw around a 5d6+1 Energy Killing Attack and have defenses of only 25
PD/ED and a DCV of 8, villains quickly learn to go after you on the first
phase of combat. The "shadow dragon thing" involved a rather large beastie
getting knocked back into a skyscraper in downtown Chicago, forcing its
evacuation and eventual controlled implosion. After that, the team was
booted out of Chicago and moved to an artificial island off the shore of
Milwaukee (said island having been seen in WarStar #1 and #4, plus a few
early issues of ASH).
Yes, you can bet Priapus had a really successful ad campaign in the
Godmarket. In case you don't know who Priapus is, he's the god who makes
Viagra unnecessary. And one has to wonder if his worshippers didn't engage
in a little slASHfic.
Finally, a couple of notes on the "hardcases" Tym mentioned.
Anyone too tough to quickly and mercifully kill with a pistol or blade
got vanished somehow instead. So, most of 'em did vanish, but "soft"
superhumans like Amy or the guy whose only power is the ability to rip CDs
into his brain would have left corpses. But of the more noteworthy supers,
almost everyone simply vanished. And things were too hectic in the summer of
1998 for a few more corpses to really draw comment...a lot of people died in
perfectly mundane ways in the days, or even the minutes, following the
vanishings, and by the time civil authority was stabilized enough to start
looking into the less obvious deaths, the evidence trail was too cold to
figure much out.
As for hardcases who wouldn't want to go quietly, there were rather few
of those. Keep in mind, most of the nasty types were bargaining with the
gods for extra power during the Godmarket, or got their powers from the gods
in the first place. So they were gone before Tym and the Wanderer even got
their spell cast. The remaining ones, well...Tym didn't *have* to let time
keep running for all the superhumans. Anyone he was pretty sure would rather
take reality down with them just got vanished without warning.
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