[ASH] ASH #99 - Rising Sun Part 3: Cherry Blossoms

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at eyrie.org
Tue Apr 21 20:38:50 PDT 2009

     The cover is an homage to the famous flag-raising on Mount Suribachi,
but with members of the Freedom Alliance taking the place of the soldiers.
At first glance it seems to be snowing, but looking closer reveals that
flower petals of some sort are floating about them.

    //||  //^^\\  ||   ||   .|.   COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED PRESENTS
   // ||  \\      ||   ||  --X---------------------------------------------
  //======================= '|`        ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #99
 //   ||      \\  ||   ||         Rising Sun Part 3 - Cherry Blossoms
//    ||  \\__//  ||   ||          Copyright 2009 by Dave Van Domelen


CODENAME       REAL NAME                POWERS                   ASSIGNMENT
--------       ---------                ------                   ----------
Solar Max      Jonathan Zachary         Spacetime Control        REAL WORLD
                 "JakZak" Taylor
Johnny Angel   Sarah Grant-Taylor       Teleportation            VIRTUAL
Gauntlet       Scott Handleman          Self-powered armor       VIRTUAL
Centurion      Salvatore Napier         None                     VIRTUAL
Red Widow      Arin Kelsey              None                     VIRTUAL
Minuteman      Aaron Zander             Enhanced human           VIRTUAL
Corporal Red   "Paul Mahler"            Enhanced human           VIRTUAL
Lady Lawful    Christina Li             Super-strength           VIRTUAL
Essay          Sara Ana Henderson       Gadgeteer                INTERFACE
Peregryn       Howard Henderson Jr.     Elemental Mage           INTERFACE
Beacon         George Sylvester         Living Light             INTERFACE
Geode          Unknown                  Living Crystal           REAL WORLD
Lightfoot      Tom Dodson               Velocity Control         INTERFACE

[October 25, 1944 - Near Samar, the Philippines]


     Gauntlet paced the flight deck of the escort carrier USS White Plains in
the harsh light that dawn brings on the open sea, the artificial rubber
slipcovers on his armor's boots muffling any sound that it might have made,
while also reducing the chances a landlubber would slide off the side.
They'd also help if one of the rain squalls that had popped up around the
area were to drift over the ship.
     "I can't shake it, Lady Lawful," he finally said, turning to the
statuesque blonde.  
     "You mean that feeling of impending doom, over and above the usual
pre-battle jitters?" she quirked an eyebrow, an action mostly obscured by her
goggles.  When he nodded, she continued, "Yeah, me too.  I mean, waiting for
the landing action is always nervewracking, but it's like I know that this
bathtub flotilla's going to get hammered before then," she gestured to take
in the "Taffy 3" Task Unit, the northernmost of the three pieces of Task
Group 77.4.  It was a cluster of "baby flattops" like the White Plains,
destroyers and the even smaller destroyer escorts.  While the big boys were
off fighting the main Imperial Navy, the slow-moving Taffy 3 and its mates
Taffy 1 and Taffy 2 had been left behind to "prepare" the landing zones.
The preparation involved bombing the daylights out of the beaches, mainly.
     "I'm not sure if it's a premonition or...a memory," Gauntlet reached up
to scratch his head in confusion, only to be stopped by his helmet.  "Like I
should know that Taffy 3 is doomed, and any second now Kurita's going to
bring the Center Force right down our throats."
     "Hey, now, don't be spreading that sort of attitude," Corporal Red
chided as he stepped out onto the deck.  "You sound like you've been
listening to Tokyo Rose's horsefeathers.  Now shake off that funk and get
ready.  There's a chance Admiral Sprague will decide to send us with the
sortie today and help soften things up, assuming the St. Lo's sub patrol
comes back empty."
     Gauntlet looked at the dim silhouette of the Fanshaw Bay, Ziggy
Sprague's flagship.  The reason the Freedom Alliance wasn't over there was
simply due to the size of the escort carriers...you could squeeze in a few
more people on any of them, but the Fanshaw Bay had already squeezed in the
small flag staff, making it impractical to put the mysterymen on it as well.
"I suppose *going* to get shot at would at least relieve the tension of
*waiting* to get shot at," he finally replied, smiling weakly.
     "That's the spirit," Corporal Red clapped Gauntlet on the shoulder,
having to reach up to do so.  While chronologically still a teenager,
Gauntlet's powers had aged him into a hulking adult.  "We lucky few, the
commandos, for whom war is only *ninety* percent mind-numbing boredom instead
of the usual ninety-nine percent!"
     "Here comes that ten percent terror," Lady Lawful pointed north, just as
the alarm klaxons started to sound.  Adjusting his goggles for magnification,
Gauntlet could see what Lady Lawful was pointing at, something the lookouts
above had probably spotted a few seconds ago.
     Anti-aircraft fire.


     Gauntlet watched in impotent frustration as colored geysers sprouted up
around the task force, 18-inch shells hurled by the distant INS Yamato.  He'd
once tried shooting down incoming artillery fire, but even a puny five-inch
shell like those fired by the White Plains's single gun had too much momentum
for him to deflect with any of the energy blasts in his arsenal.  A plane,
that he might have a chance of shooting down, but naval artillery shells were
just huge masses coming in at high speed.
     "You could try prematurely detonating the high explosive shells," Johnny
Angel suggested, following Gauntlet's gaze.
     Corporal Red, hovering next to Minuteman on the deck, shook his head.
"Those babies are fused to detonate after striking armor plate.  Hell, I'm
not sure they'd even realize they hit something if they landed on the White
Plains," he stomped his boot on the deckplate, the sound muffled by his
rubberized bootcovers.  "Probably just punch a hole straight through without
going off."
     "So, what do we do?" Red Widow snarled, coiling and uncoiling her whip
in both hands.
     "Probably head for that squall," Corporal Red pointed at a nearby cloud
bank.  "They'd be shooting blind, and I doubt they'd want to waste the
     "No, what do WE do?" Red Widow thumped her chest with the coiled whip,
then swept her arm out to indicate the rest of the Freedom Alliance.  "Maybe
we could try boarding the Yamato, cut off the Jap fleet's head with a
commando raid."
     "Unless you're really good at swimming, we'd never stand a chance of
getting there," Johnny Angel pointed out.  "It'd be suicide for a pilot to
take a FIGHTER in there, much less a transport.  We'd be shot down short of
anything useful at this point.  Maybe later in the battle, if things get
muddled, but right now...we wait, I guess."


     True to the Corporal's prediction, Taffy 3 hid in the rain, and the
shelling stopped.
     "Something's wrong," Minuteman said, barely loudly enough to be heard
over the rain that pounded the deck.  The Freedom Alliance had gotten under
shelter, but there were few truly dry places on an escort carrier in a
     "What, you ain't happy dey stopped shootin' at us?" Centurion asked.
     "Why did they shoot at us in the first place?" Minuteman mused, a frown
in his tone, although his face was as concealed as ever.  "Why waste 18 inch
shells on escort carriers and destroyers?"
     "Oh, crap," Gauntlet spat.  "Er, excuse the language," he added, to the
mild amusement of the others.  "Does Kurita think we're the Third Fleet?  Or
a big chunk of it, and not some piddly task force left behind to deal with
the beach?"
     "Exactly," Corporal Red interjected, picking up Minuteman's train of
thought, as so often happened with the two.  "And we got under cover before
the Center Force could get a good enough visual to tell them they guessed
wrong.  The good news is, if he thinks we're Third, the real Third is off
somewhere being unopposed."
     "The bad news is, Kurita's going to bring down the biggest hammers he
has on us," Red Widow narrowed her eyes behind the mask.  
     "Bakajin," Centurion all but whispered, the color draining from his
     He'd confided in Gauntlet once that he had dreams of being killed by the
Japanese artificial superhumans, like memories of reading his own obituary.
Like the German Ubermenschen, the few who survived the process became
immensely powerful, but tended to be unstable and very short-lived.  Unlike
the Ubermenschen, Bakajin displayed a broader range of superhuman talents
(the German version tended to run towards simple strength and
invulnerability), but paid with a broader range of flaws.  They weren't
officially called Bakajin, of course, but since you had to be a fool to
volunteer for what was a guaranteed suicide mission, the Allied forces coined
the nickname, and it stuck.
     The cracking of the carrier's anti-air guns started to cut through the
hissing of the falling rain.
     "Deck, now!" Minuteman ordered as he sprang into motion, the rest
following without question.  They all knew that the visibility problems that
kept the carrier safe from Yamato's guns also meant that if the AA was firing
it was probably already too late.
     A trio of rocket sleds were skidding to a stop on the carrier deck as
the Freedom Alliance emerged.  Each looked hastily constructed, with clumsy
welds that were obvious even through the rain, but the stylized flower
patterns on the fronts hadn't been skimped on.  They were clearly not the
usual imperial chrysanthemum, but something else.  One of the two figures on
the right-side sled raised his hand and a bolt of energy lanced out,
shattering the barrel of the White Plains's sole five-inch gun and spilling
part of its magazine onto the deck.
     "We are insulted by this!" the lone figure on the middle sled declaimed,
holding up a sheathed sword and shaking it in rage.  "Where is your mighty
Third Fleet?"
     All five Bakajin wore Imperial Japanese Navy officers' uniforms with
oversized chest patches bearing their codenames in both Japanese and
English.  The people in charge of the program hadn't quite grasped the
psychological effect of the "superhero costume", but they seemed to be making
progress.  The man with the sword was labeled Hatamoto, and the energy
projector was Daikyu.  With Daikyu was a literally yellow-skinned man called
Kintaro, while the third sled held a bestial figure with the codename of
Akuma and an apparent twin with the name O-Bakemono.
     "Dey're busy," Centurion shouted, with a quaver in his voice that
Gauntlet could tell he was fighting to suppress.  "I guess we'll haveta mop
the deck wit'cha instead, Bakajin!"
     "You're volunteering to swab the deck?" Red Widow smirked.  "We'll make
a sailor out of you yet."
     Hatamoto spat, although the effect was ruined by the sheet of rain that
lashed him at that moment.  "Stupid Americans.  We will teach you our proper
name so that you may tell your ancestors when we send you to meet them.  We
are the Ohkajin!"
     Lady Lawful blinked.  "Cherry blossom people?  You might want to stick
with Bakajin, to be honest."
     "I didn't know you spoke Japanese?" Gauntlet adjusted the charge running
through his goggles to better repel the rain.
     "Neither did I.  Huh," Lady Lawful shrugged.  "So, are we done
introducing ourselves, or should someone try to set up a tea ceremony in this
godawful storm?"
     "You should come to Florida," Red Widow laughed.  "This is nothing!"
     "I will send your body there to be buried!" Kintaro snarled as he
launched himself at Lady Lawful, his yellow skin starting to glow with an
inner light.  His fist was sheathed in a golden aura as he drove it towards
the heroine's face, but it was met by an even brighter golden glow when Lady
Lawful caught the fist in her hand.
     "Cool off, golden boy," Lady Lawful held onto the fist and swung Kintaro
around, hurling him towards the edge of the carrier deck.  He desperately
scrabbled on a bit of netting and barely avoided going into the ocean.
"Watch out, everyone, 'O-Bakemono' is a kind of shapeshifting demon, I
     Akuma snarled at his twin.  "I told them these foolish badges were a bad
idea."  With that, both he and O-Bakemono drew katanas and charged the heroes
just a step ahead of Hatamoto.  Daikyu held his ground and started charging
his hands for another shot.
     "Don't let them pick the dance partners, people," Corporal Red advised.
"We've been in enough newsreels they probably know most of our tricks!"
     Gauntlet smiled behind the mask.  One of the things that he liked about
government-controlled media was that the newsreels only revealed what they
wanted the newsreels to reveal.  Which included deliberate misinformation...
heck, Gauntlet's entire "origin story" was an elaborate hoax.  But by making
it sound like they were worried about the news giving away too much, Red was
trying to trick the Bakajin into believing the propaganda.
     "I see one guy who doesn't want to dance at all, so I guess we'll play
catch," Gauntlet replied.  "Hey, Dick-you, catch this!" he shouted as he
triggered the Light Lance built into his gauntlet.  The rain would get in the
way a bit, but not as badly as with a lightning blast.  The bolt of light
missed its mark, but the glowing around Daikyu's hands dimmed, suggesting the
Bakajin needed concentration to launch his devastating attacks.
     Kintaro had recovered his feet and was grappling with Lady Lawful, but
it seemed to Gauntlet like he was more interested in grabbing her butt than
actually fighting.  Lady Lawful seemed to think so as well, as she blushed
and slapped Kintaro hard across the face.
     "Pervert!" she shouted, followed by a few choice words in...Chinese?
That's what it sounded like, anyway.  She knew all sorts of languages,
     Meanwhile, Akuma, O-Bakemono and Hatamoto were in a whirling dance of
blades with Minuteman, Corporal Red and Centurion, although Centurion was the
only Alliancer with a proper sword.  The other two were making do with Bowie
knives and a lot more dodging.
     "Hey, kid, this ain't an 8-pager," Red Widow pointed both of her Colt
ACPs at Kintaro and fired.  The Bakajin staggered back slightly, but his
golden aura seemed to be the twin of Lady Lawful's, rendering him
bulletproof.  In the movies the two bullets would have sent him flying across
the deck, but by now Gauntlet had seen enough real combat to know that any
bullet with enough force to do that had to be fired from an emplacement, and
would probably just pass right through rather than stick and push the victim
     "An eight page what?" Gauntlet asked, firing another bolt of light.  He
wasn't having any luck hitting Daikyu, but at least he was keeping the
Bakajin from charging up those cannon-shattering hands again.
     "Geez, I know you're younger'n you look, but you should know that by
now," Red Widow sighed as she swapped clips and decided to see if Daikyu was
     "Hey, I didn't know until I was older either," Johnny Angel said as he
appeared out of nowhere, handing Kintaro a satchel charge.  "Here, hold
this," he added, grabbing Lady Lawful and vanishing again.
     Gauntlet couldn't tell if Kintaro had survived the blast, but he
certainly wasn't on the deck anymore.
     "Sorry I was late, I had to fiddle the fuse a bit," Johnny apologized.
     Gauntlet spared a glance for the swordfight and almost forgot to shoot
at Daikyu. 
     There were two Minutemen fighting, both holding katanas.  And Corporal
Red lay bleeding on the deck, with what must've been his severed hand nearby.
Hatamoto and Centurion had moved off somewhere out of sight, while the
Bakajin labeled O-Bakemono watched the duel with interest.  What the heck had

     A minute earlier, vision had worsened as a sheet of rain lashed against
the part of the deck where six men fought with blades.  Finesse was
sacrificed as a grapple started, although Centurion broke away and tried to
move to where he could see.  When he could see again, it looked like
Minuteman had disarmed one of the demon twins and was holding a sword.  
     But now there were two copies of Corporal Red, each holding a Bowie
knife to the other's throat as O-Bakemono and Hatamoto recovered their
     "We thought the labels were a bad idea, so we swapped," the man-beast in
O-Bakemono's uniform chuckled.  "My brother in arms is very good at creating
false clothing, do you not agree?"  His voice had a gravelly demonic quality
to it, but had a faint touch of artfulness to it, as if Akuma had practiced
his demon voice carefully.
     Minuteman didn't reply, he simply snapped the katana blade out and
severed the weapon hand of one of the Corporal Reds, sending it spinning to
the deck. 
     That Corporal Red howled in pain and leapt back, but not before turning
the stump into a bony spike and slamming it into the other Corporal Red's
gut, causing what must have been the real Corporal Red to collapse to the
rain-slick deck.
     A blind panic gripped Centurion and he ran, with Hatamoto's taunts of
cowardice ringing in his ears.

     Another explosion shook the deck as Daikyu gave up on trying to aim and
simply slammed his energized fists into the surface under his feet.  The
rippling deckplate knocked everyone for a loop, although the two Minutemen
were quick to regain their balance.
     "He's got inside!" Johnny Angel warned as he popped over to the hole
that Daikyu had created.  "He'll head for the fuel tanks!"
     Bakajin, even those that initially survived the process that gave them
their powers, rarely lived very long.  Their bodies simply couldn't contain
the tremendous energies that were granted to them, and they'd burn out after
a few months.  So they all had secondary orders, should a mission go sour:
suicide runs.  Maybe the White Plains wasn't much of a prize for a suicide
run, but it was clear that Daikyu wasn't going to be able to do any better
     "What about the magazine?" Red Widow ignored the hole and started
heading for one of the regular access points for the interior of the ship.
     "Oh, hell...I forgot about bombs for the planes, you're right!" Johnny
slapped his forehead.  "I'll head there, you and Lady Lawful cover the fuel.
Gauntlet, get down to the hanger deck in case he decides to just blow up
planes first!"
     In other words, Gauntlet was way too slow to make it to either primary
target in time to be of any use, he fumed.  In the best of conditions, his
armor made him a little faster than a normal person, but "dripping wet"
wasn't those conditions.  And he knew from painful experience that he was
just a little too big for Johnny to carry along when he popped somewhere.
     Hopefully someone would catch Daikyu before the White Plains went to the
bottom of the sea....

     "You dishonor your sword," Hatamoto sneered, finally cornering Centurion
against the wreckage of the deck gun.  "I will break it before your eyes
before I kill you."
     "J-just try it," Centurion stammered, rain running down the front of his
helmet and blowing into his face.  But even as he said it, he couldn't help
but think, "Is this the Bakajin that's supposed to kill me?"
     Hatamoto's sneer deepened and he sheathed his own sword.  "Killing you
would taint my blade.  I think I will kill you with your own broken sword,
then fly your flayed hide as a banner."
     "Bad move, buddy!" Centurion thrust his spatha as hard as he could,
aiming to plant it in Hatamoto's gut and then shove it up into the heart, in
the classic Roman fashion.
     The first part of the plan worked perfectly, with the sword striking
home in Hatamoto's midsection.
     But the rest?  Not so much.
     The blade wouldn't budge.
     "My gift from the Emperor," Hatamoto laughed.  "I may not be able to
shift forms like O-Bakemono, but I do have a great deal of control over my
flesh.  I will only bleed if I wish to, and your sword will only come free at
my command."
     Centurion tugged at the hilt, but it was well and truly stuck.  Then a
swift kick to the helmet sent him spinning, momentarily blinded as the helmet
turned around.  He had expected a blow of some sort, but that impossible kick
had caught him completely by surprise.
     Calmly, Hatamoto pulled the sword out of his own belly and then snapped
it in two over one knee.  Centurion threw his helmet aside and felt about for
something he could use as a weapon, his hand closing on a heavy metal shape
and hefting it like a club.
     "Your companions may win the day, American, but most of them have their
own gifts.  You?  You have no chance," he made a show of working the broken
blade into his own flesh, adding it as an extension of his arm and swinging
it twice to gauge its heft.  "I am one of the blessed, the Ohkajin.  You are
only human."
     Centurion realized what he was holding, and the icy grip of fear in his
gut was replaced by an even colder determination.
     "There's no 'only' about it, BAKAjin," he snarled, reversing his grip on
the five inch diameter shell and taking it firmly in both hands like a
stake.  "I'm human, and that's enough to kill trash like you!"
     With that, he slammed the shell into Hatamoto's stomach, where it stuck
just as his sword had.
     "Please.  I hardly even felt pain that time," Hatamoto guffawed.
     Centurion grabbed the discarded hilt of his sword.  "Feel THIS," he
retorted, slamming the hilt down on what he hoped was the ignition charge of
the shell.

     Gauntlet was just about to jump down into the hole Daikyu had made when
he heard the explosion on deck.  "Faked out?" he wondered aloud, running
towards the blast.  But then he realized it was coming from the vicinity of
the already destroyed cannon, and it didn't make sense for Daikyu to attack
it again.
     He almost threw up in his helmet when he got close enough to see the
wash of gore across the deck.  Even with the rain already washing it away,
there was a lot of blood still visible.  Only one recognizably human figure
lay in the middle of the carnage, and the explosion had knocked away most of
his clothing.  Could it be Centurion?  Could the man have survived whatever
it was that covered the flight deck in gobbets of flesh?  More likely the
figure was Hatamoto, and Gauntlet powered up his sonic screamer as he
approached.  It was a weapon that never made it onto the newsreels, so
Hatamoto wouldn't know about it.
     "Honest ossifer, I didn't know she was married," the figure moaned,
clutching his head.  Then he slumped down again, unconscious.

     Centurion regained full awareness much later, in the carrier's small
infirmary.  "I feel like someone punched me with a truck," he groaned.
     "You're lucky.  The brass casing must have missed you by inches, or we'd
be dumping a wreath into the sea where the rain'd've washed you," a medical
corpsman grinned.  "Some unlucky schlub's going to be scrubbing Bakajin bits
out of nooks and crannies with a toothbrush."
     "Udder'n that, I guess we won, since yer not a Jap."
     The corpsman paused for a moment, then nodded.  "I get it.  You'd be
waking up in a Japanese infirmary, not an American one.  And yeah, we won,
although Taffy 3 took a horrible beating.  Two of the Bakajin got away, and
there were some nervous moments until we were sure the right Minuteman won,
but we squeaked it out.  And Johnny Angel flew one of those rocket sleds back
to the Yamato with a load of bombs and managed to crash it into her, which
slowed them down just enough for us to get away.  I hear we actually crossed
their T at some point, not that we had the guns to make good on the
     "Great," Centurion struggled to sit up in the cot.  "I don't suppose ya
got any chow?  Dis has gotta be da one place where hospital food ain't any
worse den what I'm gettin' udderwise...."

               *              *              *              *

[July 27, 2026 - Skies over the Balkans]

     The Sun overhead was now a deep ruby red, swollen to fill much of the
sky but too dim to do any good for the land below.  Phaeton looked longingly
at it...the Sun was his birthright, stolen from him by that bastard Apollo.
     "Well, if you can't get what you want, make your own," he grinned,
drawing on the finite but impressively large reserve of power that remained
at his command.  A warmth spread from his stomach outward into his limbs,
then erupted into blazing light....

     "...Eckhardt for Terran News Network reporting from Naples, where the
mysterious second Sun has been visible in the southeast for about an hour
now.  Speculation is rampant about its true nature, although most believe it
is some action by the minotaur Q'Nos.  International tensions have ratcheted
up as people across southern Europe seek to enter the former Greece in order
to take advantage of this replacement Sun.  As you can see courtesy of
NewsBot 9000, the mood here is very tense...."

               *              *              *              *

[February 23, 1945 - Iwo Jima]

     "This should be a cakewalk," Gauntlet assured the others as they picked
their way up the side of Mount Suribachi.  "We control the ground, and the
Japanese aren't going to come out of their tunnels in any significant
numbers.  Heck, they didn't even really need us here, a couple of four-man
squads made...could make...huh.  Does anyone else feel like this has already
     "I definitely have a mental picture of raising the flag, if that's what
you mean," Corporal Red nodded.  He'd healed completely from his gut wound,
courtesy of the serum that made him more than human.  The Second Squadders
like Red weren't on the same power level as Bakajin, but they tended to
survive a lot longer, barring combat death.  "Of course, I've been dreaming
of this moment for a while...first American flag to be planted on Japanese
soil, rather than just retaking what wasn't theirs before the war.  Maybe the
dreams are just that vivid."
     "Tell me about it," Johnny Angel replied, briefly popping behind an
outcropping and back.  "All clear for the next bit.  But I definitely have
this image of six guys raising the flag.  But, um, not four guys and two
gals, which is kinda weird.  Why would I dream about someone else doing it?"
     "Maybe your dreams have lousy eyesight?" Red Widow smirked, pausing to
strike a cheesecake pose that was out of keeping with the military uniform
she'd taken to wearing.  The old swimsuit costume had been too badly damaged
in combat, and finding replacements on a troop transport wasn't exactly
easy.  Not that going into a fight in those tattered remnants would have
lowered morale any for the soldiers they accompanied.
     "Movement, four o'clock!" Minuteman warned, just as a misshapen figure
burst up from a concealed portal.  
     In the split second before he triggered a blast from his Light Lance,
Gauntlet realized that the man wasn't misshapen so much as he was burdened
with an awkward device of some sort.  A weapon, probably.  But the bolt of
searing light turned the attacker's head into an expanding cloud of mist
before the device could be activated.
     A few months ago, Gauntlet would've spent the next few minutes
decorating the landscape with his lunch after so vividly killing a man.  But
now he shrugged and scanned the landscape for other targets.
     He noticed Red Widow standing with a confused expression on her face,
holding out a hand without a gun in it.  "What's up?" he asked her.
     "I...don't know.  I reacted without thinking, but I didn't draw my
pistols," she said.  "What was I expecting, that I could shoot stuff from my
hand like you do?"
     "Heads back in the game, people," Corporal Red ordered.  "Woolgathering
will get you killed.  And we have a flag to plant, point the way to Tokyo for
all the boys on the front line!"
     "And the girls," Lady Lawful added with a smirk.

               *              *              *              *

[July 28, 2026 - Skies over the Balkans]

     Phaeton felt the flow of power, the balance tipping in his favor.  No
longer was he purely paying out his energies to become a second Sun.  In
fact, thanks to the worship of the mortals below, shallow as it may be, he
was now replentishing his reserves more quickly than he was spending them!
     He may have no longer been a true god, but he still knew the skill that
turned the merely powerful into gods: how to convert worship into might.
Given enough of this, he might even regain his stature among the purebloods,
parlay himself a place in some other pantheon and leave his fallen Titan
brethren to rot.
     Of course, it would be useful to have more than mere spiritual essence
to claim when he made that move.
     It would certainly be good if he could claim to be the one and only god
of the Sun...by taking all the power stolen by the scions of Doublecross for

               *              *              *              *

[July 28, 2026 - The Photonic Shell]

     This was no physical meeting, the various members of the Light Brigade
were scattered throughout the shell of Mothflame's constructs.  Hence,
discussion was slow, limited by the speed of light, but very little needed to
be said.
     "The intruders have been too successful," Goldmind told the others.  "We
need to assault them in the physical plane and disrupt their ability to
continue meddling."
     "Agreed," Light Errant pulsed.  "We have determined they are on Venus.
Gather our resources on that planet and prepare for an assault."

               *              *              *              *

[April 12, 1945 - Iwo Jima]

     The general set down his corncob pipe and cast a glance at the tent flap
to make sure no one was about to enter, then faced the six mysterymen.
     "This information goes no farther than this tent, understand?  Good.
Planting that flag was more than just a symbol, it's part of a plan to locate
a secure path to Tokyo.  The science boffins call it a 'port sniffer'
although they tell me it's good for cities that aren't ports too.  We've also
got or will soon have an 'atomic bomb' like out of the Saturday afternoon
serials, and if we can deliver it to Tokyo we cut off the head of this
particular serpent and can mop up the rest pretty quickly."
     "That's just wrong," Gauntlet frowned.
     Minuteman nodded.  "The civilian casualties of using such a device,
assuming it's as potent as you imply, would be unacceptable.  Why not use the
secure route to send us in with a commando team to capture or assassinate the
high command?  Neither is exactly honorable, but..."
     Gauntlet gesticulated in frustration as he cut off Minuteman.  "No, no.
I mean, Tokyo's the wrong target.  It should be Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
right?  Tell me I'm not the only one who immediately thought of Hiroshima as
soon as the general mentioned the atomic bomb?"
     A few uncertain glances and hesitant nods confirmed it.
     "Those aren't even military targets at all, though," Johnny Angel
frowned.  "What would the point of that be?"
     "Ta make 'em surrender," Centurion replied.  "If ya kill all da High
Command, dere's no one left ta say uncle.  If ya blow up a city and scare da
pants offa da High Command, dey might be willin' ta ne-go-shi-a-tate."
     Lady Lawful shook her head as if trying to clear cobwebs.  "What's going
on here?  It's like I'm remembering the future, and it's all wrong.  Like I'm
in that movie about Nazis trying to convince an officer that the war's been
over for years, but in reverse."
     The general picked up his pipe and put it in his mouth, clearly trying
to figure out what to say next.  Finally, he spoke.  "You're partially
right," he admitted, at which a murmur of confusion and dissent rippled
through the tent.  "Things aren't what they seem.  This isn't the war you
think it is, and you're starting to reach the point where you're able to
understand what's actually going on again.  Things're going to get stranger
and more dislocating before they get better.
     "But you ARE heroes," he slammed a palm down on the table for emphasis.
"We ARE fighting the bad guys, and the stakes are the entire world.  Maybe
beyond.  And getting that atomic bomb to Tokyo is the only way this can end
well for anyone BUT the bad guys.  You're going to have to trust me."
     The shadows of the tent seemed to deepen along with the mood.  No one
spoke out against the general, but neither did anyone seem to be happy about
this revelation...or lack of revelation.

               *              *              *              *

[July 28, 2026 - Undisclosed Location]

     Shadows covered all but his smile, which broadened and brightened.
Chiaroscuro was well-pleased with the progress of events.  Soon, very soon,
he could absorb enough light to re-balance himself.
     Taking all of Akuryu's power at once had been a mistake, he realized.
And not even Matrioshka's science was able to restore the balance he had
thrown away in that careless gesture.  He was too much shadow now, not enough
light, and it threatened to overwhelm him.
     But his mother and her minions were unwittingly providing him with a way
to restore that balance.  
     "Not that I need to take that power from them now," he said to the empty
room.  "Not when there's a fallen god of light showing his face.  Raw light
would have worked, but to take in the essence of a god of the Sun?"
     Shadows pulsed in time with his laughter.

               *              *              *              *

[July 29, 2026 - Outside Falcon Bay, Venus]

     "I wish we had more detailed information," Light Errant sighed, a human
habit that she retained even when in photonic form.  "But between their mage
and their inventor, they've erected too many defenses for any of us to sneak
in and scout around," she glanced at Oblivion, who was composed of
ultraviolet light and therefore effectively invisible to normal living eyes.  
     "We'll just have to overwhelm them," Mothflame gestured to the stone
beetles that waited in the forest.  "I've gathered all those I've been able
to subvert, and a few more new recruits.  Heraclius may come soon, though,
now that all of his 'stolen children' are in one place."
     "All the better," Whiteout grinned.  "We want as much distraction and
chaos as possible, so that we'll be free to identify the linchpin in their
system and shatter it."
     "If we fail, don't fight to the death," Light Errant reminded them.
"Goldmind is certain we already have enough energy for plan B to work, even
if he's less sure about how much longer we need to gather light in order to
revive our lord."
     "The only death we'll fight until is theirs," Whiteout declared.


Next Issue:

     The road to Tokyo!  Assault on Venus!  The machinations of fallen gods
and those wishing to become gods!  Death on a planetary scale!  Could this be
the end of ASH?  Find out in ASH #100, the final part of Rising Sun,


Author's Notes:

     Yes, I changed the issue title.  Between the length of the Samar battle
scene and the fact that there was little to no fighting in the historical
trip up Suribachi (it happened after the area had been pretty well secured
above ground), I couldn't really justify "The Guns of Iwo Jima".  
     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_off_Samar has details on the
historical version of the battle in the first scene.  And in case anyone's
curious, yes, all the bakajin under Admiral Kurita's command were named after
BattleTech 'Mechs typically associated with the Draconic Combine (aka House
Kurita).  The White Plains, CVE-66, was an actual part of Taffy 3.
     In the actual First Age timeline, the Centurion who went to war in the
Pacific was killed by Bakajin.  In this story, it's an example of the
memories of the real people starting to break through the shell personas,
something that got more obvious later in the issue.  The name Bakajin
(roughly, "idiot people") was inspired by a Japanese piloted glide bomb
officially known as the Ohka ("Cherry Blossom").  Hence Ohkajin, and the new
issue title.
     Hatamoto means "under the banners" and was a title for samurai in direct
service to the Shogun back in the shogunate period.  Daikyu means "great
bow", Kintaro means "golden boy", and Akuma and O-Bakemono are both types of
devil or demon, the latter being a shapeshifter.  Kintaro is also partly a
reference to the similarly-powered Wild Cards character, in case anyone was
     The movie Lady Lawful/Breaker is referring to in the last scene on Iwo
Jima is "Thirty Six Hours" from 1965, which was homaged in an episode of
Gatchaman/ Battle of the Planets, as well as an episode of GIJoe and numerous
other places.

     I leave you with a thought: it's something of a tradition in online
superhero fiction, mainly in Superguy, to end a series when it reaches #100.
I've already done so once (with Dvandom Force), would I do it again?


     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
post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ash_stories/ !

     There's also a LiveJournal interest group for ASH, check it out at
http://www.livejournal.com/interests.bml?int=academy+of+super-heroes (if
you're on Facebook instead, there's an Academy of Super-Heroes group there


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