[ASH] ASH #85 - Coming Home Part 2: Devastation

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Wed Feb 6 07:34:31 PST 2008

     Cover shows Solar Max and Jen Kleinvogel struggling in a swarm of
shadowy, blurry demonic forms.  Cover copy proclaims, "DEVASTATION IS NIGH!"

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #85
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||           Coming Home Part 2 - Devastation
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2008 by Dave Van Domelen

                       ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL

CODENAME       REAL NAME                POWERS                   ASSIGNMENT
--------       ---------                ------                   ----------
Hong Jia Qong  Jonathan Zachary         Spacetime Control        MISSING!
  (Red Beetle)   "JakZak" Taylor
Jin E          Jen Kleinvogel           Flight, Stealth          MISSING!
  (Golden Swan)


[March 12, 82 C.E. - Skies over China]

     "Something tells me that cloud on the horizon blotting out the sunrise
isn't meteorological," Jen said as she clung to the back of Solar Max's
armor.  Her own flight speed was pretty fast, but the alien armor worn by the
other hero could reach high subsonic speeds in the atmosphere.  While it
couldn't propel her that quickly, at least the distortion effects generated
by her own gravity sheath let her breathe at those speeds, so she looked like
a shadowy blot against the back of his gleaming red form.
     "Still too far off to make out details, even at max zoom," Solar Max
replied, "but I think it's not so much a cloud as a swarm.  Lots and lots of
little demons, hanging out with the big bad reality-destroyer demon.
Devastation has roadies."
     "Well, that's good news and bad news," Jen nodded.
     "The bad news is obvious," JakZak's smirk practically carried over their
radio link.  "What's the good news?"
     "Well, potential good news.  If Devastation actually needs screening
forces, it might mean that it's vulnerable during its emergence, and we might
be able to stuff it back into its hole.  Kind of like the original ASH did
with Cthulhu back in 1989."
     "I hope it's a little more vulnerable than that," Solar Max shuddered.
"ASH paid a pretty heavy price to stop that incursion, and it only worked in
the first place because the stars weren't right yet.  Do you suppose
Devastation is just another name for Cthulhu?"
     "Who knows?  Until '89, everyone just thought Lovecraft's works were
pure fiction.  But it's not like that was the first fictional menace to pop
out of a dimensional rift in the 80s.  But maybe Devastation just took the
form of Cthulhu for some unfathomable reason of its own, just like it's
coming out in a form that I presume conforms to the Secret Masters' beliefs
     "Well, I just hope the Secret Masters have a way to stop this thing,"
Solar Max frowned behind his helmet, "or we might end up in its N-dimensional
     "Hey, I want to be appreciated for the meals I can prepare, not the
meals I'm an ingredient for," Jen tried to lighten the mood, but it only
soured her own, as she thought back to another day....

               *              *              *              *

[March 1, 80 C.E. - Mount Hua, Sili Province]

     "That was very goodness," JakZak smiled at Jen, patting his belly.
     "Yes, very good," Seven Winds nodded, subtly correcting the man he knew
as Red Beetle.  "Golden Swan will make a good wife some day, if that is to be
her Way," he smiled, standing from the dinner table.  "Now, there are
auguries I must study related to someone in the Imperial Court who may be
practicing sorcery, and I'm certain the two of you have matters related to
your recent journey to the West that you would be more comfortable discussing
in private.  Good night," he excused himself and left the common room between
the cells JakZak and Jen slept in.
     "Whew," Jen sighed.  "I know he doesn't mind it when we speak English
around him, but it feels...rude, somehow.  Even if the old man understands
more than he lets on."
     "I...think he understands quite a bit, actually," JakZak looked a little
uncomfortable.  "There really isn't anything to add about the latest trip.
No sign of Derek or Cas anywhere, nor message from them.  I'm pretty sure he
wanted to give us privacy for some other reason."  He narrowed his eyes and
gave Jen a faintly accusing look.
     "Are you..."
     "Look, I don't think there's any collusion going on, but Seven Winds is
no idiot, and neither am I.  That little wife comment was aimed at me as much
as it was at you," JakZak said.
     An uncomfortable silence descended over the room.
     Jen finally broke eye contact, occupying her hands by cleaning up the
dinner table.  After about a minute of tension filled with innocuous domestic
sounds, she heaved a sigh.
     "Yes, JZ.  I've been thinking seriously about us," she admitted.
"Romantically.  What if we're trapped here for the rest of our natural lives?
Face it, even if I hadn't dated you a couple times before you got together
with Sarah, you're the only guy for the next two thousand years who I can
relate to.  And worse than that, I really like you."
     "You know what I mean," she snorted.  "If I were trapped with just Cas,
who I don't really know, or Derek, who I actively dislike, I wouldn't be
having this problem.  I'd find someone local I could at least connect with on
some level...heck, these are monks, not priests...or even put up with
celibacy if I was worried about the timeline.  But no, I have to be stranded
in the distant past with a guy I'd kinda like to marry, even if you *weren't*
the next best thing to the last man on Earth."
     "But I'm already married."
     Jen seemed to deflate, the head of angry resentment that had been
building up just flowing away.  "Yeah.  And part of that 'nice guy' thing is
that you're not gonna give up on Sarah.  Hell, you didn't give up on her when
she seemed to be *dead*, turned to ice in a way that had been fatal every
other time it'd ever happened."
     "Except for when it happened to Mr. Strings," JakZak countered,
referring to how Tyra Dumont had been partially changed to ice and yet
survived for some months before "dying" in a fall and becoming a telepathic
     "As good as fatal in her case," Jen waved aside the counter-example.
"But you kept hoping, and she came back to you.  So, of *course* you're not
gonna stop hoping when you *know* you're still alive and might someday go
back."  Jen put down the bowls she'd been holding during this whole dialogue
and sat back down on the floor.
     "What about Dan?" JakZak asked, referring to the leader of STRAFE's
field arm, Dan Tracey.  "Have you given up on going back to him?"
     Jen shook her head sadly.  "There really hadn't been anything there for
months before Monaco.  You know him, married to his work and having an affair
on the side with *more* work.  When we were still part of a tight squad, and
I saw him almost every day, I could stay inside his armor and make it work.
But once we were promoted and started spending more and more time apart as we
dealt with our different responsibilities?  Forget about it.  Oh, we still
hook up every so often, but I think he's only doing it now because he feels
an obligation to me.  Maybe he never really loved me, just felt grateful that
I'd saved him from his own obsessions."
     "Um...wow.  Sorry to hear that.  Now I'm worried about Dan, too, and I
never thought I'd have to worry about whether *he'd* be okay," JakZak
     Jen chuckled, but with a touch of sadness to it.  "The world's most
perfect man has a lot of flaws, trust me on this one.  He's just good at
hiding them from the world.  He may consider himself your friend, but I doubt
he's ever really let his guard down around you.  Hell, he's only done it
around me maybe a half dozen times, and the first time it was when I was
almost literally dragging him out of the abyss."  [As seen in STRAFE #14 -
     "I'm sorry," JakZak said softly, after a long silence.
     "For what?  It's *my* screwed up lovelife," Jen sighed.
     "I dunno.  Just seemed like the thing to say.  Husband handbook page
one, if there's any doubt, apologize," he grinned.
     "Wow, Sarah has you trained so well," Jen chuckled.
     "It's all the positive reinforcement."
     The tension evaporated like a fog at dawn, and at least for that night,
things were okay again between the timelost heroes.

               *              *              *              *

[March 12, 82 C.E. - Mount Tai, Qing Province]

     The fog obscuring the dawning Sun had resolved into hundreds of demons
of all shapes and colors, a riot of sickness as reality itself seemed to be a
weeping sore where Devastation emerged.  The top of Mount Tai was already
coated in demonic ichor, and none lived within sight of the peak.  Or, if any
did still live, they wished they didn't.
     Solar Max was crushing the demons or swatting them aside with his
gravitic powers, but it seemed like Devastation spat more minions out as
quickly as they could be destroyed.  For her part, Jen was a flitting shadow,
cutting into the foul beasts with one of the swords she had brought from the
monastery.  Three spare swords were strapped to her back, and she was
starting to wonder how much longer the first one would last as acidic demon
goo was pitting its surface and weakening the blade.
     In a pinch, she could use the few bullets remaining in her STRAFE
sidearm, but the fight had already suggested to her that only total
dismemberment would stop these things.  A gun might just annoy them.
     "I think we're getting closer," Jen said over the radio link, trying to
sound hopeful.
     "Actually, we've been pushed back a little since we engaged the enemy,"
was Solar Max's dour reply.  "But Devastation has been growing faster than
we've been getting pushed back, so I guess we're getting closer in a way.
Just not a GOOD way."
     Jen chopped a serpentine demon into two pieces, then spun around and
cleaved its skull to make sure.  The blade snapped as she tried to pull it
out of the skull, and she snarled, tossing it as hard as she could into the
body of another demon before drawing a fresh blade.  "Days like this, I wish
the Offensive Powers Fairy had left me an energy blast under my pillow."
     "It's not all it's cracked up to be," Solar Max grunted as he compacted
a particularly large demon down to the size of a basketball.  "I really had
to watch my temper back in secondary school, or I'd accidentally slam stuff
around when I got angry.  This just happens to be a situation where 95% of
the directions I could cut loose in NEED to be slammed around.  Correction,"
he added, diving aside from the venom-dripping claws of a batlike demon.
"Make that 90%...looks like Seven Winds is finally getting here with the
     The demons milled about in apprehension, giving the two timelost heroes
a moment's breathing space as the small flock of "travel clouds" swooped in.
Neither Solar Max nor Jen had ever met any of the Secret Masters aside from
Seven Winds, but they'd heard enough tales to figure out who was which.
     The bald man tearing into demons with his bare hands had to be Eight
Tiger, who reputedly earned his name after wrestling eight tiger spirits into
submission.  Close on his heels would be Tien of the Five Swords...only one
blade was working now, but it was said he could wield all five at once
despite having but two hands.  
     A bobbing and weaving cloud that steered erratically among the flying
horde would surely be ridden by Master Li the Drunkard, and as the man
laughed and broke an empty wine gourd over the head of a demon, it only
confirmed Jen's suspicion.
     Two more Secret Masters hung back, avoiding direct contact with the
demons.  The white-haired man who looked like he could be the dour older
brother of Seven Winds breathed out a gout of purifying white fire,
indicating that he was the infamous mage Silver Flame.  And, as the only
woman in the group, the Heavenly Consort In Silk offered no confusion as to
her identity.  With her face hidden behind a jade mask and her hands sheathed
in flowing silk there was little clue to her true age, but her grace as the
streamers of fabric lashed out to strangle demons was undeniable.
     As for Seven Winds, he laughed and called down a mighty gust out of the
clear sky to drive demons to the ground.  "How good of you to leave us some
foes upon which to warm up our muscles!" he called out, good-naturedly.  It
was odd for an almost conversational tone to be audible over the sounds of
battle and screeching demons, but the winds carried his voice to the ears of
those he wished to hear him.  One of the lesser, but practical, uses of his
elemental magics.
     "Kill all you want, there's always more," Solar Max called back, his
helmet amplifying his voice to be heard over the din.  Far less elegant than
Seven Winds's solution, but just as effective.

     For several long minutes, heroes...who would be legendary had anyone
known of them to tell their stories...fought on.  The demonic hordes were
pushed back, and soon it seemed like they were killing the foul things faster
than they could emerge from the cracks in reality around the growing bulk of
     Too bad the good fortune couldn't last.

     "Something's happening!" Jen pointed to the undulating dark mass of
Devastation.  It seemed to be gaining some definition, as if a distinct body
part was about to form.  Would it be an arm, to reach out and destroy?  A
gigantic maw set on devouring all before it?  Eyes to glare balefully out at
the reality it was determined to prune from the tree of existence?
     A single claw, larger than a mountain, emerged, demons swarming along
its blackened metal surface like a colony of mites.
     "By the five elements," Eight Tiger hissed.  "Buddha's own hand could
not be so large!"
     "Buddha's finger would not be so ugly, at least," Master Li slurred as
he steered his cloud towards the claw and tried to strike at it.  But even
moving about in what looked like lazy circles in the air, the talon flashed
past at a tremendous speed, creating a slipstream that sent Master Li
spiraling away.  As it passed, it shed a new horde of demons that did their
best to follow Li's unsteady path.  Eight Tiger dove after him to save the
drunken master from his new predicament, but not without a faint sigh.
     "I'm down to my last sword," Jen called out as she drew the blade and
shrugged out of the scabbard rig she'd been wearing.  "But I don't think I'd
do more than give that thing a manicure with it!"
     "Five sword heavenly pattern!" Tien shouted, all of his blades in the
air at once carving out a pattern of light and shrieking air that seemed to
hang in front of him.  When he stopped, the pattern flared even more
brightly, then streaked across the miles to the claw, where it detonated in
an almost invisible flare, so far away was it now.  Devastation seemed
unperturbed, the single claw stirring the clouds almost lazily.  "One sword
or five, it seems to not matter," he turned and said with sadness in his
voice.  "We are too late, it will take the assistance of Heaven itself to
stop this."
     "Then it is good that I am here!" a voice called out in their heads, a
rushing of wind across their spirits rather than actual sound.  All turned to
see a serpentine form streaking in from the West.
     "Most serene dragon of the Western mountains!" Heavenly Consort In Silk
gasped.  "Has the Emperor in Jade heard our pleas?"
     The dragon was among them in less than a heartbeat.  "I'm afraid not,"
she replied, her mouth not moving as she spoke into their hearts.  "The
Heavenly Court is occupied with matters celestial, and has not yet noticed
affairs here on Earth.  It only came to my attention because I had been here
attending to personal affairs."
     Jen cued up her commlink and whispered in English to "Red Beetle," "Is
that who I think it is?"
     "If you think it's the Western Dragon," he replied the same way, "you're
probably right."  Back in 2026, the human front the Western Dragon offered to
the world was the leader of the Central Asian Confederation.  Would be the
leader.  Whatever, Red Beetle shook his head.  "And I'm guessing these
'matters celestial' are another branch of the godwars."
     "How might we avert Devastation, oh mighty celestial minister?" Seven
Winds asked, sounding far more respectful than Red Beetle could recall him
ever being.  As if to punctuate the question, the titanic talon reached down
and carved what looked to be a light furrow across the wastelands surrounding
Mount Tai...but it was actually a trench several meters deep.
     "I will try to force Devastation back," she replied.  "It will take much
of my strength, and I cannot be distracted by the minor demons that accompany
Devastation like so many fleas.  Then you must perform the ceremony of
closing," the Western Dragon replied, her eyes flashing with both anger and
sorrow.  She seemed to know that this could well kill her, and resented it
despite knowing that it was her duty.
     "The ceremony could seal you with Devastation," Silver Flame argued.
"And it would surely slay you then!"
     "But if we do not, brother," the Consort countered, "Devastation will
simply escape and destroy all.  If it is to be the Dragon of the Western
Mountains' fate to die this day..."
     "Wait," Red Beetle interjected, hoping his Chinese was comprehensible to
all assembled.  "You say the gods are distracted now, honored dragon.  What
if we could gain their attention?"
     The massive serpentine head shook sadly, even as the Western Dragon
launched a blast of wind from her tail to scatter an approaching cloud of
demons.  "They vie now for matters more consequential than one world.  You
would not be able to distract them from that."
     "Perhaps NOW," Jen caught JakZak's drift, and joined the argument.  "But
what of the future?  If we could force Devastation into a time when the gods
were not distracted, would they intercede?"
     All eyes were on the pair of foreigners now.
     "You have the magic of time?" Eight Tiger asked, dubiously.
     Red Beetle nodded.  "I cannot control it, which is why I have not used
it in the years I have spent with Seven Winds.  But I don't need to control
the magic in this instance, do I?  Just propel Devastation someWHEN else, and
hope I survive long enough that the Jade Emperor takes notice and removes my
demonic burden."
     "And if you think I'm not coming along," Jen added in English on their
private link, "you're crazy.  No arguments...I might be able to help
stabilize things, or...something.  But I'm not staying behind."
     "Very well," Seven Winds nodded.  "This must be why the Way guided you
here in the first place, the branch trying to preserve itself from
destruction.  My friends," he turned to the other Secret Masters, "Red Beetle
and Golden Swan are not of our time, but if Devastation succeeds their world
will never come to pass.  We fight for all those who live, but they fight for
all those yet to live.  We must give them all the aid we can."  He turned
back to the pair, "And what aid might you require?"
     "Just hold it still and clear us a path.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to
have to be inside that mass if I'm going to push it outside of time.  And,
ah, be ready to try your way, Western Dragon.  If we fail, or if I can only
move part of Devastation away, you'll still have an angry demon to contend
     The next several minutes were a blur of flame and blades and claws and
tearing wind as they stopped worrying about containment of the demons and
simply fought their way to Devastation itself.  At some point, Jen's last
sword ended up stuck in the body of a glutinous demon and she simply
abandoned it.  
     The Western Dragon wound herself around the tip of that mighty claw, and
by drawing upon all the strength of the mountains of her domain was able to
hold it steady for the briefest of moments.
     In that moment, the two heroes from a future that might never be dove
into the squamous mass of semi-corporeal flesh that was still emerging from
the fissure in reality.
     "NOW!" Red Beetle shouted, and Golden Swan used her gravity sheath to
reinforce the artificial wormhole he called into existence.
     And they PUSHED.

               *              *              *              *

[Outside Of Time]

     Everything was hazy, uncertain and full of fear and pain.  JakZak and
Jen could feel the mighty demon all around them, but everything seemed to be
infinite in both direction and duration.  They pushed, not knowing what they
pushed against or in what direction, just knowing they had to keep driving
Devastation deeper and deeper into time, hoping that someone would notice
them before the demon decided to simply crush them and return to its unholy
     Then, after an eternity that felt even longer than that, the terrible
pressure and pain vanished as if it had never been.
     "What...happened?" Jen asked.  She wasn't sure how she could even be
talking outside of time itself, but she was too relieved to worry about it.
     "Someone noticed, I hope.  Or Devastation decided to just leave," JakZak
replied, shakily.  "I think we're going forward in time...but I don't have a
lot of experience with this.  We could be going backwards.  Or sideways,
even.  Not that I even know what that would *mean*."
     "It means you people certainly do get around," came a third voice, out
of nowhere and nowhen.  "I swear, for a small cohort of admittedly powerful
mortals, you Academy people are busy folks.  You're heading in the right
direction, though, give my regards to George when you get home...."
     "Hello?" JakZak called out to the nothingness that was barrelling past,
but there was no answer.
     "We're definitely going to have to talk to George a bit more about his
trip to the future," Jen said after a long non-time had not passed.  "Did he
say anything about any extratemporal entities?"
     JakZak shrugged.  "He didn't remember much, but...whoa, turbulence!" 
     "How can there even be turblence outside of..." Jen started to say, when
they both felt like they'd been turned inside out....

               *              *              *              *

[Somewhen, Somewhere?]

     "Urrgh," Solar Max grunted as the strange sensations stopped.  It was
like the "hangover" he'd gotten from his two previous deliberate attempts at
either looking through time [Academy #6 - Ed.] or traveling through it [ASH
#31 - Ed.], but not as severe.  Telltales in his armor flared to life,
warning that he was falling, and from pretty high up.
     Exerting his gravity powers, he slowed his descent, then reached out to
grab Jen, who seemed to have been hit a little harder than he had by the
temporal disorientation.  Within a few seconds, she'd recovered enough to at
least hover under her own power.
     "I really REALLY hope we're home," Jen mumbled.  "I don't want to do
that again."
     "Believe it or not, it gets better...well, not as horrible...with
practice, I think," Solar Max tried to quip, but it came out sounding like he
couldn't even convince himself of it.
     "Okay, I'm picking up radio transmissions, and that's definitely a
modern city below us," Jen seemed to have steadied herself a little, and
she'd strengthened her gravity sheath to the point where she was little more
than a blur.  Solar Max released his grip on her.  "Ugh," she wrinkled her
nose.  "It stinks though...be glad you're in a sealed armor and can't smell
the air.  At a guess, I'd say we've got to be in the TwenCen.  You think we
bounced off the Barrier?"
     "I wish I had enough experience to say, but I don't recall feeling
anything notable at the beginning of our trip back to the First Century,"
Solar Max pointed out.  "I think the Barrier just gets in the way if you try
to enter the timestream from 1998 through 2023 or so.  Otherwise, you skim
over it like a stone on a pond.  I'm not picking up any panicked emergency
response to our arrival, though, so we're probably not in the Third Age.
We've gotta be pre-IDINS protocols," he noted, referring to the
Interdimensional Immigration and Naturalization Service, a branch of the
regular INS that had been created in response to the high number of
interdimensional visitors and invasions that marked the Third Heroic Age.
     "We're a little high up for me to be sure, but those cars down there
look pre-Third Age too.  Unless there's a motor convention in town, there's
an awful lot of old-fashioned steel box stuff on the streets.  I was never a
motorhead, but I think those things are 1970s 'Detroit Steel'.  Lemme swing
down for a closer look, I won't stand out as much," Jen pointed out.  "You
try sifting the datasphere some more..."
     "Attention, flying supernormals!" came an amplified voice from far
below.  "We would like to talk to you!"
     "Or we could go ask the nice man down there with the bullhorn where and
when we are, I guess," Solar Max replied.


Next Issue:

     They've made it as far as 1976, and you've already seen one side of that
story in Coherent Super Stories #4...but now for that tale through the eyes
of JakZak and Jen, and the revelation of why they came derailed from the
timestream in the first place!  Be here for part three of Coming Home,


Author's Notes:

     Cthulhu is public domain, no matter what the Derleths may say.  And in
the 1989 event in question, I used a hand-made plush Cthulhu bought at a
convention (this was before Toy Vault came out with its horde of
plushthulhus) that was set up so you could put miniatures in its mouth.
Which happened on a few phases.  40d6 of normal damage will mess up even a
brick, and the telepath who said he didn't need help...well, that player made
up a new character for the next session.
     The whole "uneasy romance" between JakZak and Jen was part of Tony's
original plans for the timelost storyline, but I actually forgot about it
while writing #84.  I remembered before finishing it, but decided that there
was already too much talking in the issue, so I moved it to be a flashback
here.  :)
     I am amused that the issue of exactly when the Consorts Song died in 82
C.E. is *still* stumping Library of Congress researchers.  At this point, I'm
wondering if someone's going to be able to get a refereed paper out of the
topic by the time all is said and done.
     Finally, for the benefit of new readers, the mysterious voice in the
"outside of time" scene is Baal Samin, guardian of the celestial temple.  The
stability of spacetime is his baliwick, which has led him to multiple
interactions with members of ASH (mainly George Sylvester).  He's not
courting worshippers in the 2020s, though, so he's not going to be showing up
a whole lot.  Just in the time-travel and dimension-mangling stories.  :)


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !

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