STARFALL: Spellbinder #5

William Strickland indomitable.william at
Mon Jan 23 18:44:46 PST 2012

"Your move," said Loki after repositioning his rook.

Hermes nodded and considered the field. "You know, Loki, your game's
really improved lately. Have you been practicing?"

Loki knew bait when he saw it, but this was a friendly match - a rare
thing which he cherished, these days - and so he didn't bother
avoiding it. "I have, actually. Been going to parks in large cities
where people play a lot. In addition to being instructive, it's turned
out to be a wonderful way to pass time."

Hermes nodded. "Always good to have something to do. Lucky for me, I'm
going to be very busy starting here pretty soon. I may not even be
able to finish this game, now that I think about it." He made a move,
smirking. "Might have to concede this one to you, friend."

Loki laughed. "That'd be a first. So what's going to be keeping you
busy? Is this anything to do with the turmoil I've heard about in your

"Oh, absolutely. I should be getting a message... ah, here it is," he
said as a bronze owl flew into the window of the room, which was not
anywhere in particular and had a beautiful view of a sky without end.

The owl dropped a sealed scroll into Hermes hand and perched,
evidently waiting for a response. Hermes opened the scroll and read,
although he already knew what was in it. He did so carefully, so he
could get a better bead on what the sender was thinking - his sister
was the only member of his pantheon who didn't wear their heart on one
sleeve and their addled mind on the other, save maybe Hephaestus, who
didn't have a good enough life to get as full of himself as the other
deities. Hermes had some time ago decided to become Hephaestus'
friend, partly out of pity, but also because the god was one of the
more intelligent Olympians. It would probably start paying dividends,
now that Hephaestus was learning to craft the new mortal

As Hermes read, Loki looked over the board. He looked up briefly to
notice the bronze owl glaring angrily at him. The owl lifted up one of
its claws, pointing at its eyes with two talons before pointing them
at Loki again: 'I'm watching you'. It was all Loki could do not to
burst out with laughter, but that would've been rude. And the owl
didn't deserve rudeness. Yet.

"Tell Athena that of course I'll be in attendance," said Hermes. "Or
better yet, I'll go tell her myself. The meeting isn't long from now

The owl nodded and flew out the window. Loki said "I think it was
upset at my impersonation. I'm surprised it knew."

"Athena's owls are surprising sometimes," said Hermes with a chuckle.
"She distributed much of her far-reaching consciousness into them,
because she couldn't handle the amount of vision she originally had.
She saw too much, which kept her from noticing anything important."

Loki nodded. "I think Father did something similar with his ravens.
Probably for a similar reason. So, you're headed out?" He positioned
his bishop in a seemingly innocuous place midway across the board.

"Yes indeed," said Hermes. "I wouldn't miss this for all the... oh,
that's nice," he said, noticing what Loki had done with his move.
"Yes, and I'm definitely conceding the match. Well played, friend."

Loki smiled. "Thank you. Now, go enjoy your meeting."

Hermes grinned. "I will."


The Superheroic Adventures of Spellbinder, Mystic Defender of the

By Robin Strickland

Issue 5: Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Cover: A circle of fists belonging to heroes from other titles arrayed
in a circle against Tank, who stands in the center with guns akimbo.


I hate waking up confused.  I really, really do.

I'm not sure if this is something that's ever happened to anyone else,
but waking up with a confusing question in your head is an annoying,
obnoxious thing. Especially when the question is 'Why is there someone
in my head?'.

Fortunately, I had an answer, although I knew I wasn't going to like
it; I'd given out cards for the last several days that enabled people
to get into my head if they needed my help, even if I was asleep, and
if they did so it would wake me up.


"What is it?" I thought at the person in annoyance. After realizing
how rude this was, I thought "Sorry, it's just that you woke me up,
and I'm a bit of a slow riser."

"So I've noticed," said the person on the other end - I recognized the
psychic 'voice' immediately, the mental equivalent of someone speaking
to you over a football stadium's loudspeakers.

"Oh, Hello, Knight." I rubbed my face. Well, I guess he'd understand.
Or maybe he wouldn't - he's not human. Did he even need to sleep?

"Two hours a night," he responded to my wondering. Well, that answered

"Lucky," I said. "I'll bet you don't have nightmares, either."

"About that..." he thought at me, then stopped. "No, never mind. To
business. There is a problem that has developed and we would like your
assistance with it."

I nodded mentally. "Okay, great. This is exactly what I handed the
cards out for." Pause. "Who's 'we'?"

"The superhuman community."

That made me pause. "Like... all of you?"

"Everyone I've been able to get in contact with, at least. If your
cards are two-way, that would make contacting more of us simpler. The
more of us we can assemble the better."

"I... okay. Wow. That's... what's this problem?"

"There's a superhuman on a rampage in New Jersey. Since the first
thing he did in the open was kill a gangster, the media is treating
him as a rogue hero rather than a villain. This is a problem for all
of us superheroes in America."

"I'm going to need that one explained I think," I thought to him.
"Okay. Where would you like to meet?"

Suddenly I knew about a large loft apartment in New Jersey that was
owned by someone or other. "Here. If you can bring anyone with you, do

I thought about some people, but while I knew people who were
powerful, none seemed to have the temperament for this. Well, maybe...
but no. Play it safe. "Okay. I'll be there. Just let me get dressed
and I'll teleport over."

"You can teleport? Impressive. There will be food here, and coffee." I
noticed a certain warmth when he passed over the idea of 'coffee' -
apparently he really liked the stuff. "I realize I am asking people to
meet early in the day, and so I intend to accommodate everyone as much
as possible."

"Hey, thanks. I love food. That's very considerate of you."

"I appreciate the compliment," he said, and then he ended contact.

I got dressed in my superduds, packing away some civilian clothes in
case I needed them. I concentrated, and vanished from my home,
appearing in someone else's, apparently. I looked around; there were
two dozen people in colorful outfits standing around eating kolaches
and drinking coffee. There were no fewer than a dozen pots of the
stuff all percolating, and it seemed to be a blend featuring vanilla
and some sort of fragrant nuts, so the loft smelled kind of amazing.

"Welcome, Spellbinder," said the Knight. It struck me that when he
spoke vocally it sounded just a little awkward, like it was something
he had had to get used to recently. "Please help yourself to coffee.
You are still half asleep."

I paused. "Yeah, I kind of am." I picked up a pot and took a seat near
several other supers I'd met recently. "So what's the story? This guy
is dishing out 'x-treme justice' or whatever, is that really our mess
to get involved in?"

The room was silent for a moment. I heard someone snoring briefly
before the Knight said "Ah. You are new. Very well, we will explain."

Superheroes seem to have a strange talent for civics lectures. I'll
spare you the whole thing because it was long, but be assured that it
was very spirited, inspiring, moving and, well, convincing.

Short version: The superhuman community has an absolute need to police
itself. Why, you ask? Simple. If the superhuman community doesn't
police itself, someone else will. That is, if people aren't convinced
superheroes can keep them safe from supervillains, they're going to
get the government involved, and this will eventually end in an
attempt to conscript and control the superhero population of a given
country. There were even examples on hand; Russia and China had both
already done this, which understandable made lots of people nervous.

So far most of the world had a favorable balance between superheroes
and supervillains, but there was something that could throw that out
the window. What literature refers to the Byronic or anti-hero,
someone who used gruesome and unpleasant means to deal with crime,
could easily make the public distrustful of superheroes, and at that
point it didn't matter how safe superheroes were keeping people. If
these anti-heroes made them FEEL unsafe, because there was some grim,
dark jerk out there going around killing people seemingly at random,
people would start saying 'someone has to do something about this'.

The thing about the phrase 'someone has to do something about this' is
that unscrupulous people love it.  They love having an excuse to be
the one to do 'something', and to have excuses for that 'something'
being whatever they like. So what it comes down to is this; imagine
the most horrible, abusive leader you can. It can be real or
fictitious, current or historical. Just take this person, this
terrible, awful person, and picture them wielding authority over an
army of superhuman beings with the sort of power it takes to level
cities, as well as whatever terrible sort of power is needed to keep
such beings obedient.

If this doesn't frighten you, keep thinking about it, then get back to
me once you're at least unsettled by the prospect.

The sad fact is that such people will eventually get in control over
any such power structure, because that's what they want. So the
superhuman community resolved early on to do everything they can to
keep such a thing from existing in the first place; they police
themselves to that they can prove that nobody else has to.

Okay, civics lecture over. And yeah, that's the short version.

"Okay," I said. "Okay, I'm convinced, we've got to stop this guy. And
we're getting a lot of people together because that makes the point
that this isn't just some dust-up between two guys with a
disagreement, right?"

"Exactly," said Bombshell, a pretty woman with red hair and a green
outfit. The others - most of whom I'd met in my introduction tour -
all nodded as well.

"Okay, I'm in. When do we start this?"

"Probably tonight," said a man in a cape and cowl, who I knew was the
Nightstalker, a man with few powers but who had a genius for detective
work. "I'm working on finding him sooner, but for such a huge dustup
he didn't leave much evidence. The only real lead is all that hardware
he's got. That can be tracked, but since it's black market, it's going
to take enough time to track down that just waiting for him to come
out again is probably faster. He's been out each night for the last
three nights, now, and he's likely to continue this pattern."

"Excuse me," said Lord Go, a mighty bare-fisted monk from Japan,
"Spellbinder, you have been drinking coffee straight out of the pot.
And you have emptied it. It is still steaming; it must be quite hot.
Not to mention what it will do to your kidneys." He seemed concerned,
which was nice I guess.

"Huh?" I looked down at the pot in my hand. Yeah, it was still warm to
the touch, even thought it was mostly empty. "Yeah, I guess. Sorry, I
was distracted." Looking for a quick conversation switch, I said "If
there's any bits of our guy at the scene of the fight – blood, hair,
skin, whatev – I can use magic to find him." Which was true, but also
a change of topic.

"I'd already looked in hopes of identifying him," said the
Nightstalker. "There was nothing, which is strange. Especially
considering that Cenotaph spent two hours punching our antihero with
fists with the texture of cement, which would normally mean that
there'd at least be some skin that rubbed off."

I frowned. "I don't like the sound of that. It reminds me of

"You think this guy's power is to not get hurt?" asked Dryad, a lady
with plant-control powers.

I shrugged. "It could be. I can think of a few other reasons he
wouldn't leave blood, hair or skin behind, but they're even less
likely. The good news is that every power has a limit, and between all
of us, it should be pretty easy to overwhelm him."

Famous last words.


"I hereby call this council of the Olympian Godhead to session," said
Athena. "You will notice that Zeus is not here."

"It kind of caught my attention," said Hades dryly. "What's he been up
to lately, anyway?" Hera snorted.

"Trust me, uncle, you don't want the details," said Athena. "However,
Zeus has proven himself unfit to rule in a way that we cannot deny. We
must discuss a replacement." There was murmuring around the table,
particularly from those who did not usually spend their time on
Olympus itself.

"All well and good," said Poseidon. "But Zeus, for all his faults, is
powerful. Deposing him will be difficult, even with all of us united
against him." Despite the misgivings in his voice, Poseidon couldn't
hide that he was eager to dethrone his brother and take his place.

"Zeus," said Athena, "Will be attending a mortal competition on Earth
soon. He will have to diminish and remove himself from Olympus to get
there. Once he is there, it will be a simple matter to lock him out."

There was more incredulous talk around the table. Apollo, a shining,
statuesque man, stood and said "I will not stop you from this, Athena,
but I will have no part in it, either." He turned and immediately

"Well," said Poseidon. "Just as well; we would've needed his power in
a fight, but if there's no fight then we don't need him. So how do we
determine the new king or queen of Olympus? Competition?"

"I was thinking of putting it to a vote," said Athena.

The table was quiet for a while, and then Hermes said "Well, that
sounds good to me!" All eyes turned to him, whereupon he said, "And I
for one would like to nominate Athena. After all, there is clearly no
better leader we could have than the goddess of wisdom, yes?"

There were some grumblings around the table – Poseidon and Hades had
always wanted their brother's seat – but Hermes had already done what
he needed, and went ahead and put his feet up on the table. Hephaestus
would support his nominee, and Athena was one of the few Olympians
that Hera didn't hate. While Hera had few friends, her power and
position carried a lot of influence. Between the lot of them, they
would have an easy time convincing the rest.

As the discussion grew louder and more animated, Hermes allowed
himself a smile, unseen. His dear sister Athena was really ideal for
the job. She was perceptive, aware of myriad realities, intelligent,
rational, an overachiever and a definite perfectionist. She would look
after everything and anything that came to her attention, which would
eventually be everything and anything.

Hermes smiled a bit wider. He gave her maybe a month before she was so
overwhelmed with self-imposed responsibilities that she quit (she
would, of course, be wise enough to stop before growing insane -
otherwise the prank would be no good). The only thing that could
prevent this was if something came up that would pry her attention
away from the majority of godly matters.

The messenger of the gods made a note to tell her about the current
status of the Mystic Defender Program after, oh, about a week. He knew
her reaction would be priceless.


I took care of my usual business through the afternoon. The Knight's
gathering actually made it easier - I was able to talk to a lot of
well respected supers while there. I made the rounds for a few hours
before making my way to New Jersey. The day was pretty dull, all said
and done, and nothing supernatural was happening. Which I knew was a
warning sign of something, but I didn't know what at the time.

We superheroes, being fine and upstanding citizens and such, met in
the middle of Blackgoat on a large rooftop. We were pretty formal
about the whole thing. Rocket was there in addition to everyone else;
turns out he was the one who got the ball rolling late last night, and
he's the one who'd been asleep during the meeting, resting after a
long night of crisis-mode hero-gathering.

If this part of my account sounds awkward or rushed, I wanna
apologize; I spent almost twelve hours waiting, and I hate waiting,
I'm no good at it, I can't stand it, and my frustration as I recall
the events of the day are probably leaking over into my writing here.

Evening was just starting to fall when we got our first heads-up on
the whereabouts of our problem. An abandoned building – one among a
veritable sea of them on the city's east side – came apart in an
explosion, and there was the sound of gunfire. We all knew without
saying anything that it was go time. "Remember the plan, people," said
somebody. I forget who, but it's not important.

It was a good plan, too. Too bad.

We saw Tank backing out of a building with a pair of automatic rifles
blazing into the building. He was pretty big, definitely at least six
and a half feet tall, and had the most atrocious mullet I've ever
seen. Seriously, it was like a malevolent drain clog developed a will
of its own and mounted an assault on a huge man's head. He was wearing
some pretty odd clothing, too; the trench coat I could accept due to
the weather, and the bandolier was useful because it held ammo he
might need some day, and the pouches, uh, maybe held something useful
too. I guess. But the shoulder pads? Those had to go.

'Well', I remember thinking to myself, 'I can give him fashion advice
after we knock him out'.

There were six of us, besides myself, there for the opening. The
others had been searching other parts of town and were still coming
in, but this worked out well; for the most part, we were the real
heavy hitters.

Rocket and the Knight you've met. Bombshell could direct concussive
force from her hands; Lord Go was super-strong, ancient, and a karate
master to boot; Johnny Swift was able to run at some crazy improbable
speed that ignored the physical impossibility of the sort of ground
contact needed for that (my favorite powers are the ones that defy
explanation); and Captain Excellence (seriously) had a pretty good
flying/superstrong/supertough mix.

>From reports we'd gotten from witnesses of the last fight, this
person's big thing was being hard to hurt, and he'd been able to take
shots from Cenotaph, himself a pretty tough customer, without falling.
So the plan was to hit him very, very hard, and that's what we started
out with. Lord Go opened up the engagement by ducking in under the
guy's defenses while he was busy shooting the burning building. Go
spun a little and landed a beautifully executed kick square into the
mullet-man's jaw, hard enough to send him airborne.

"Huh?" asked the guy in the trenchcoat. He didn't look hurt; I
remember thinking this might be bad. I started pulling in electricity
from the grid supplying power to the Eastern Seaboard of North

Captain Stupidname (excuse me, Excellence) was in his path, and
slammed Mightymullet down into the earth, hitting him hard enough that
I felt the shockwave in my teeth. The Knight was standing right next
to the site of impact, and once our target was there, he produced a
blade of shimmering red light and jammed it into the guy's head. I
knew this was his psychic sword, a powerful weapon (or power, or
whatever) that could completely incapacitate just about anyone.

"Whoever you are," he said, "This ends now. We cannot allow you to
continue behaving as you have; you are under arrest." Even with all
the talk, his attack with it was well-executed, and left no room to

Which is too bad, because it didn't work. Slowly, the Amazing Mullet-
Man rose to his feet. "The name... is Tank," he said. "Remember it,
'cauze it means I can't be hurt!" He gave the Knight of Cydonia a
rough shove, pushing him back. The Knight frowned; later he mentioned
that he'd never encountered anything that could just ignore the
sword's power before. Must've been confusing.

Tank (thank God I can use his name now) pulled out a rocket launcher
and fired it at the Knight; Swift intercepted the rocket and tossed it
skyward, where Captain Excellence kicked it into the upper atmosphere
before it detonated harmlessly. Probably wouldn't have hurt the Knight
anyway, but hey, teamwork!

Swift then went to work picking all the other weapons off of Tank
while the Knight fired some sort of eye lasers into the guy's face. I
made a mental note to see if I could work a spell that produced eye
lasers, because it sure looked awesome. Tank didn't even stagger; he
just held his arm out suddenly enough that he caught Swift with it,
who was bowled over and went crashing into one of the abandoned
tenements. Rocket began pouring on the stun blasts, which seemed to do
about as much good as everything else, and by now more of the heroes
we'd brought were showing up.

I continued gathering electricity while they dogpiled in on Tank, but
I wasn't really paying attention to the spell – it's a minor miracle
that I didn't lose control of the charge while I was distracted. But I
noticed something, an energy signature, each time someone landed a hit
on him. The ones who were constantly pouring in attacks like Bombshell
and the Knight produced the best signature, because it was constant,
and I could get a look at it.

It was the same signature the priests had had the day before when they
were calling on the god they thought was 'Santa Muerte'.

My first mistake was that I didn't do any of the teamwork stuff I was
seeing done around me. That would've really helped. My second was
thinking I could overwhelm the power I saw at work on my own when I
really should've known better.

I shouted to the others to get clear, and they obliged, whereupon I
flew in at just under the speed of sound and thrust my palm onto
Tank's chest, directly hitting him with enough electricity to power
the East coast of the States for about half a minute.

He might've been stunned for maybe half a second.

I'd like to puff myself up by saying I chose the moment I did because
I saw what he was going to do and went in to sacrifice myself for the
other heroes, and hey, maybe I did. Sometimes I surprise myself. But I
kind of doubt it.

So I think my third mistake was not seeing the brick of C4 in his
hand, wired to a push-button detonator and covered in nails, until
he'd pressed it up against my mask.


Zeus stepped out of the dimensional portal and into the streets of
Seattle. He wasn't very far from his location, and while he couldn't
just wish himself there with a thought - he'd had to give up most of
his power to come here, since Earth's local space-time was still
reeling from the latest Reality Quake - it would be no great exertion
to walk himself there.

He'd had Hephaestus craft him a carefully tailored phylactery, with
the appearance of a dashingly handsome white-haired youth, and
carrying as much power as he could reasonably get away with, just in
case he needed to smite anyone for trolling. He walked to the Seattle
Convention Center, where the event was being held (and where this
year's PAX would be, as well—he considered remaining in the mortal
realm for that), and got in line.

Soon, he thought. Soon his plans would come to glorious fruition, and
then he could have more of everything.

He began to laugh maniacally as he stood in line, but nobody was
really bothered by it because it's a gaming convention and acting
weird is par for the course.


I came to with half the world looking red because there was blood in
my eye. Johnny Swift was looking  me over; he looked like he was in
pain. I was hurting a bit too, myself. And something was wrong. I
tried asking him if he'd landed alright, but instead a brief
dissertation on the metaphysical flavor-structure of blueness poured
out of my mouth.

"Oh," said the speeder, "language center too, I guess. Hold on, I
think that's right... here we go." I felt something sliding against my
scalp, and then that part of my head began to itch. "You're healing
really fast. I guess you've got a spell going for that, huh? I'm happy
you survived, we haven't lost anyone yet it's really a miracle. Your
mask broke in half, tho. You're gonna need something to cover your
face once the skin's grown back."

I reached into my chest and pulled out a roll of medical gauze. He
blinked, laughed nervously and said "Sure, just a second" as he
started wrapping my face. When the itching in my head stopped (good
priorities, healing factor), I tried speaking again and this time it
worked right. "Did you land alright? If you're hurt I can heal you,

"Pretty clean tib/fib fracture," he said. "Left leg. You sure you're

"Yeah," I said. "I'll need my mask back so I can fix it, though. Hold
still," I said, and grabbed his leg. It *was* a clean fracture – I
didn't need to set it – and after about fifteen seconds of chanting
and stuff he was standing up. "Wow," he said. "Okay, one sec."

There was a blur and then he was holding three pieces of porcelain in
his hands – the remains of my mask.

"Thanks," I said, accepting the offered bits. "I have a friend I'm
going to bring in who can probably help, but she won't recognize me
with the bandages." I held the pieces and repaired them with a handy
spell, and then put the thing on over the bandages. "If anyone asks,
I'll be back in a few minutes. Tell everyone to hold tight until then.
I know what's powering his invulnerability, and I can take care of it,
so everyone should just stay alive until then."

He nodded and took off to relay that to the others. I stood (it hurt a
bit – there was a nail in my leg too, which I pulled out), and I
carefully worked a spell that would take me to what was probably the
best chance for the plan that was percolating in my mind.


"Spellbinder's down!" shouted the Nightstalker, twisting in and
kicking Tank in the back of the knee, causing him to stumble.

"I'm amazed she's not dead," said Go as he used the setup to deliver
an axe kick to the back of Tank's head, knocking him into the air.
"Aren't magicians supposed to be fragile?"

"Focus please," chided the Knight as he flew in under Tank and rammed
him in the back with both fists, hauling him into the sky where
Bombshell was waiting.

Her explosion lit up the evening sky. Later on people would report
seeing it as far away as Maine. She normally had to hold back
considerably in order to avoid exorbitant property damage, but at an
altitude of about five hundred feet anything was fair game, and this
fight was starting to run long. Much too long. Bombshell wasn't a
hardened combat veteran like many of the supers gathered here, but
even she knew that the longer a fight goes on, the more problems are
going to crop up to make it go bad for you.

So when she saw Tank falling from where she'd blasted him with a truly
spectacular display of power, she began to really worry. "Knight," she
said, beginning to sink, "I can't keep myself airborne anymore." In a
blur of motion he was beside her, descending with her back to the
battlefield at a speed she could handle.

"I put everything into that," she said, and the Knight of Cydonia
could hear panic creeping into her voice. "That was the equivalent of
a million tons of dynamite, with him in a box so the blast couldn't
spread too far. He should be ash now. Ash and vapor."

But he wasn't, of course. After slamming into the pavement and hauling
himself out of the crater he left, Tank rolled his shoulders like he
had no concerns in the world before lunging at Rocky, a young hero who
was made of stone, and hadn't managed to come up with a better name
yet. The Knight frowned when he saw Rocky recoil from the blow - Tank
hadn't been that strong at the beginning of the fight. Nowhere near

He landed, setting Bombshell down. She needed a distraction from the
problems of the fight. "Sarah, get to safety. If you see anyone around
here, get them to safety as well. If your power begins to return–"

"You'll know," she said. "Don't worry." She jogged off to find safety
as the Knight returned his attention to the fight.

He looked around. Two more heroes were already down for the count, it
seemed, in addition to... wait.

"Where is Spellbinder?" he asked.


Medusa sighed as she turned off the television. Lately, she didn't
seem to have the passion she'd used to. As she'd begun to get over her
old problems (slowly, but still) and started forming new habits that
would keep them from being reinforced, she'd been growing more and
more bored as the lack of what had once occupied so much of her life
faded, leaving a big, empty... something. In her life.

She frowned. She would've been able to finish that sentence better if
she were still watching movies on Lifetime. Oh well.

She was still reading, and it was a good past-time, but she was having
trouble finding enough good books quickly enough to fill all the time
she had these days. She'd heard some people took jobs regardless of
their wealth, just to occupy their days doing something productive,
but she had little knowledge that was useful to the modern world.

She supposed she could always teach history. In retrospect, it was
hilarious how much people got wrong about what went on in the old

"Hey, Maddy," said Chelsea as she teleported in, wearing her
Spellbinder uniform and surprising Medusa with the suddenness of her
appearance. "Ever consider being a superhero? I could use your help; I
need you to put on a ridiculous outfit, spout some awful one-liners,
and use your magic eyes to defeat a very bad man."

Medusa smiled. Maybe today was salvageable after all.


I confess that the outfit I threw together for Maddy was awful-
looking. I had some green clingy elven chainmail that I stuffed her
into, and I dyed her hair to match (she wanted to do the hair-snakes
thing but I suggested it might be a bad idea), and I grabbed a cape
and tossed it around her. The only piece that really had any thought
put into it was a green plastic visor I'd been tinkering with for a
completely different purpose (I was still trying to set up a way to
detect hostile intent at the time), and I enchanted it hastily while I
explained what she was to do with that.

So when we teleported back to the battlefield (I was starting to get
tired by then), she looked awful but was ready to go.

"Everyone get clear!" I shouted, and after what had happened the last
time I'd said that, everyone did. "Take it away, Medusa," I said. We'd
agreed that would be a hilarious choice for a super hero identity.

As I prepared another teleport spell, I tried not to notice that
nearly a dozen supers were on the ground now, with another limping
away. I was going to solve this problem. Maddy would buy me the time
needed to do it. I vanished, promising myself I'd sleep for a few days
after this was over. I was starting to hurt all over from the effort
required, the magic leaving my spine feeling like it was on fire, and
the fight coming after this would only make it worse.

Especially since I was probably going to be disowned by the superhero
community if my plan worked.

I stuck around just long enough, though, to hear Maddy give her line.
Grinning wide, she shouted, "ONLY my EMERALD-QUARTZ VISOR can hold
back my deadly PETRI-BEAMS!" in that way people who've never done
acting before sometimes do, and she touched the side of the cheap
plastic visor and turned on her gaze. Green rays shot out at Tank, and
the rays and the 'pewpewpew' sound effect they produced both seemed
taken right out of some cheesy '60s sci-fi show.

I grinned under my mask (and bandages) as I vanished. She was having
fun, and she should be able to hold him there for a minute or three.


The Butler of Loud Sorrows looked up from his drink. "Two days," he
said. "Damn, but I hate when people hurry things."

"Hi," I said. "I'm Spellbinder."

"Yes, you are, aren't you?" he said. "I'm very keenly aware of you,
for some reason. Odd. I'll figure out why later. What's that you have
with you, young lady?"

He gestured to my right hand, which was holding the iron spear I'd
taken from the Huntsman a few weeks earlier, when I'd last been here.
"Huntsman's spear," I said. "It's a special sort of magic. Within the
confines of a Wild Hunt, it can slay anything, as long as it's the
target of the Hunt."

"Even gods, right?" said the Butler before taking a sip of his drink.
It was big and fancy and had one of those little umbrellas in it. "And
so you want my permission to call a Wild Hunt so you can drive
Tezcatlipoca's influence from your world."

I was silent for a moment. Why was I surrounded by so many damn mind-
readers lately? "Well, yes," I managed awkwardly.

"I don't know why I can see what's in your mind. I really don't. I
shouldn't be able to. There's barriers around there that are pretty
amazing. The only reason would be... oh." He frowned. "Oh, I see. Dear
me, but I feel sorry for you."

"Wait. You're fey."

"I'm a butler," he said. "We're a different breed here on Fairy."

"Fair enough," I said. "But, anyway. Can I--"

"No," he interrupted. "Even if I didn't fear what Tezcatlipoca would
do to me in retaliation for assisting you in banishing him from the
Earth Dimension, or fear what his pantheon would do to me if you
actually managed to kill him, it is not the way for you to solve this

"Then what is?" I asked. I was becoming angry, but trying not to let
it show.

He was quiet for a while. He looked off to his side, where the sun was
setting over a gorgeous ocean  just past the sandy beach he occupied.
"I'm going to tell you something," he said. "I'm sorry, but it is
going to hurt you a great deal, and due to your current condition, you
won't remember it after this is all over. Not at first. But you will
understand it, at least long enough to do what you need to protect
your world. If, after this, you do not hate me, come back to me as
soon as you remember and I will explain the rest. I didn't want to
join this game," he said with a resigned sigh, "But I can't stand...
well. Nevermind."

He stood up, walked over to me, and put his hands on my shoulders,
looking directly into my eyes. "Here is the truth, Chelsea." He said
some things, and I began screaming as I vanished from the world of


"He's fighting it harder, now!" shouted Medusa. Tank was beginning to
gradually de-petrify, the stone flaking off to reveal his skin
underneath once more. "I'm not sure how much longer I can hold him

"Get ready," Rocket said over his suit's voice amplifier. "When he
starts to move, everyone hit him at once!"

"Wait," asked Go, "what's that?"

The Nightstalker turned and looked, seeing Spellbinder there, shining
red and radiating tendrils of black energy that seemed to reach into
his soul. "Spellbinder's back. Get clear of Tank!" He didn't know what
was happening, but knew it was going to be bad, and knew who it would
be directed at.

Medusa stopped her assault for a second, and Tank fully reverted to
his flesh self, staggering from the sudden reversion. He turned,
saying "What the hell is that screaming coming fr--"

It was very sudden. She leapt at him, and she latched onto his face
with both hands and stared into his eyes, and in everyone's vision
there was a tangled mess of sharp points and edges, rusty with old
bloodlettings, and then Spellbinder dropped off of Tank, staggered
back, and then pitched forward onto her knees and was quiet, and it
was Tank who was screaming now, staggering away from her.

An aura of darkness sprang up around him, and a shape began to take
form as the others watched.


I was back to my senses again, but I wasn't out of the park. I was
still working on, I dunno, instinct or something, or else sheer bloody-
mindedness, to do something I'd decided to do before coming here. I
tried to work a spell, but I couldn't focus enough to get it to work,
I couldn't form the sigil needed in my mind's eye, so I pulled out a
knife and carved it into my left forearm, and cast it using that as a
ritual circle. Blood would help this spell anyway so I might as well.

I didn't feel the knife as I cut myself. I didn't feel any pain at all
at the moment, which was strange. I'd felt like I was full of white-
hot needles when I went to Faerie, so why didn't I hurt now?

Doesn't matter. Focus on what's happening. Make the sign. Say the
words. Put your mind through the pattern, open your soul to let out
the energy. Summon.

Whatever I'd hit Tank with, it triggered his power to such an extent
that the power's source was practically manifest here already, which
couldn't have been better. Only a little nudge, and it brought him
fully over. There were other gains from this, too. For one thing, all
the power to protect Tank from the assault had to come from somewhere,
which meant the god powering Tank was coming into this fight tired.

For another thing, he'd be vulnerable, due to giving his godly
protection from harm to a mortal agent.

Out of Tank rose the source of his power. A towering man with pitch-
black skin, with a bestial face with two yellow stripes across it, and
wearing the skins of leopards - Tezcatlipoca. Aztec god of awfulness,
really, and if you believe his hype, creator of this world.

"He's the source of the trouble here," I said. "Get him, guys."

What followed was glorious.


I took a sit-down while the beating unfolded. I still can't explain
how I felt, other than to say I was numb, everywhere, on a number of
levels. The dogpile on Tezcatlipoca was very nice, though. I wish I'd
gotten it on tape because my mind and body were still recovering from
whatever had just happened, so I don't remember much of it. I just
remember that it was really, really great.

Lord Go and Nightstalker later gave me a rundown of it, but mostly
there was a lot of really amazing back-and-forth setups where one
super would hammer Tez right into the fist of another. Maddy got into
it, which was heartening. She was a powerhouse from the age of
legends, and had enough strength to rival any of the others.
Apparently she'd also learned pankration at some point, and was pretty
brutal with it. Hearing Lord Go talk about her fighting was hilarious,
with the dreamy look he got in his eyes.

I can't really give you a blow-by-blow, but I can fill in some of what
happened. Eventually Tezcatlipoca decided he'd had enough.


"*ENOUGH!*" bellowed Tezcatlipoca, throwing off his assailants with a
blast of black lightning. I don't remember much about the fight, but I
remember the way his voice reverberated in my bones and the back of my
mind, a linguistic noise more primal than sound. "I HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF

And he opened his mouth, and all the blackness around Tank flew away
from him and into that gaping, glowing maw. Tank stumbled and
collapsed to the ground, muttering to himself.

And then I was sad for some reason, and it took me a moment to figure
out why. Then I realized: I was having such a good time sitting there
resting while watching the spectacle of seeing a godly slave-driver
get his, I really didn't want to cast another spell. It would hurt,
and I'd probably fall unconscious afterwards. But it needed to happen,
so I took some chalk out and began scribbling on the pavement. I was
very glad there wasn't any blood needed for this one, because I was
hungry again, which meant I was out of regeneration fuel. That had
happened faster than I thought, I remember thinking disinterestedly as
I finished scribbling a circle on the floor.

"Knight, your sword," I said, and a little magic carried my voice so
that he'd hear it.

"Go! Medusa! Hold him!" And they did. Tezcatlipoca struggled against
their grasp, but a bevy of other heroes came in to help, Rocky
grabbing one leg and Rocket, even with his suit looking like it was
starting to fail, taking another. The Knight of Cydonia summoned his
shining blade again, and wrapping one arm around Tezcatlipoca's neck,
drove it directly into his skull.

Tez's eyes widened and a crazed look came over his face. "THIS...
WON'T... STOP..." he said, and that's as far as he got before the
Knight said "Then I will have to try harder."

Tezcatlipoca was severely weakened, immobilized, and his mind was
scrambled – he would probably never be this weak again. I put my hands
on the circle I'd drawn and said some words in Latin. This was a spell
of banishment I'd actually picked up from an old guide for medieval
Catholic exorcists. I remembered being surprised at how much of the
stuff in there was genuinely worth using, and this in particular was a
massively high-end banishment. Which is exactly what I needed.

There was a THUMP as I finished, and the world wobbled, sinking in and
flowing out like a wave. Tezcalipoca shone with a red light and
bellowed in impotent, wordless fury as he vanished from Earth,

And then I passed out.


The Knight of Cydonia carried Spellbinder's sleeping form in his arms
as he flew to New York. Captain Excellence carried Medusa on his back
(she refused to be carried in his arms, apparently) as they landed on
the roof of her condominium complex.

"Hey, nice," said Captain Excellence. "This is a good part of town. I
have family in the area actually, I think I'll visit if you guys're
gonna be okay?" They nodded that they would, and he waved, said some
cheerful goodbyes and flew off.

Medusa went to the access door and opened it with a key she kept for
when she wanted to sit on the roof and read. They went inside and to
her suite, which was on the top floor, and so it wasn't a great
distance to get there. At the door she said, "This will be enough,
thank you."

"No," said the Knight of Cydonia. "It really won't."

Maddy frowned suspiciously. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Medusa," said the Knight, "You are Spellbinder's friend, yes? You
care about her?"

Maddy frowned but nodded. "Yes, she's been... why are you asking me

"We need to talk," said the Knight.


"You knew this was going to happen, didn't you?", said the butler to
the dog.

The dog – really, a coyote – looked up and nodded. "Yes, I did. And
before you ask, yes, it needed to. If I'd left that one alone it would
have been a problem."

"I can't believe it," said the butler. "You're saying what happened to
her is necessary?"

The dog scowled. "By the Great Spirit, no," it said, with a little bit
of real anger in its voice. "Do not mistake me for some sort of
malevolent being who enjoys suffering, or turns a blind eye to it.
What happened to her was horrible, and if I'd known it was happening,
I would have set her free much sooner." The butler sighed, sitting
down on his beach chair.

"However, my response to what had happened was necessary, yes," said
coyote. "What the Dark Lord has set in motion is inconceivable. To be
willing to gamble with such a thing is beyond even my thinking."

They were both silent for a while. "I'm sorry," said the coyote. "But
she has to wake up. And the sooner the better. If she stays blind to
what she is, she will be manipulated forever, and everyone will suffer
because then she will be just a weapon. This way she goes free."

"You're sure that's a good idea?" asked the butler. "She came to me
asking for help in killing a god. She's killed people before, even her
own father."

"I know," said Coyote. "And it's a gamble. But this is the best chance
we have, and it's the right thing to do besides."

The butler was silent. The coyote knew the conversation was over and
so he took his leave, going back to his home.

Stepping out of Faerie, Coyote took on the visage of a man in light
armor, long wild hair and rogueish stubble. Moving with a purposeful
stride quite out of character with his supposed trickster nature, he
walked until he was in a room with a grand golden throne, a room full
of people with gleaming armor and glowing eyes. He walked in among the
virtuous, the High Holies of Arcadia, shining jewel of the Ninth
Realm, the heroes of a universe, and who held back the darkness of a
thousand worlds.

"Ah, you're back," said the wizened but still powerfully-built man who
sat upon the throne. "What news does our finest agent bring, Coyote?"

Coyote bowed gracefully and said, "Father Moz, I believe the forces of
the Dark Lord will soon begin to marshal."

The warrior-saints and priest-lords who filled the room murmured
amongst themselves in response to this announcement. Father Moz Ez,
shining god-king of Arcadia, held his hand up, calling for silence,
and he received it.

"Why do you believe this?" he asked.

"Because," answered Coyote, "they believe their plan is going as they
will it."

"Is it?"

"No, Father, it is not. This gives us hope, for their plan is truly
terrible and must be defeated at all cost, but at the same time it
makes things more dangerous for all."

Father Moz nodded. "May the Origin guide us, then."


"Sir, a moment," said a filthy underling as he bowed beside the seat
of a tall man in dark robes. The man in the robes gestured for the
underling to go ahead, and he said "We have found traces of the energy
signature we were looking for. The Prodigal is on Earth, in Realm
Three, and has begun awakening."

The man took the small black lump of metal offered to him and observed
the screen it bore. His beady eyes darted across the lines of text as
his long, three-jointed fingers stroked his chin. His facial features
were severe almost to the point of having edges, which had the effect
of having his look of surprise be almost unnoticeable. "This is ahead
of the timetable," he said, "But that is good. Thank you, Zyk-
Nineteen. That will be all."

The underling (who had his letter-number designation branded on his
forehead) bowed and scampered away as the robed figure stood and
strode from the room, happy to deliver news without receiving
punishment. Down halls filled with screams and laughter he walked,
past labs cluttered with the unknowable, and finally out into the
world's day, lit by two glowering red suns and dotted with moons,
debris fields, and a haze of smog.

Over a long bridge he walked, miles above the warrens below, where
dwelt the wolves and other horrors. Into a throne room he strode,
bowing as he entered, and waited to be acknowledged by the occupants

The Dark Lord was speaking with his lieutenants, Puzzle, Nanny Hope
and Vyn DeKat, sitting upon his throne as was custom for such events.
The room was lit only by a fire pit in the center, and so the Dark
Lord himself could not be seen save for a pair of red eyes that
menaced the room with their baleful glow.

Kyne looked over the others assembled; the privileged few who served
the Dark Lord directly, without being part of this world's infernal
bureaucracy. Puzzle, the head of his own bureau, a gnarled and twisted
crone who delighted in nothing so much as 'study' that caused
suffering to others, but was genuinely brilliant all the same. Nanny
Hope, in her horrible pink dress, trainer of the elite soldiers and
nearly unparalleled in the warrior's arts. Vyn DeKat, spy and
manipulator extraordinaire, whose very existence was questioned by
whole worlds even as he ran them from the shadows. All for the glory
of the Dark Lord.

"Math-Priest Kyne," said a voice, low and terrible, snapping the robed
man out of his reverie. "I hope you come bearing news that is

"I do, my Lord," said Kyne, not rising from his bow. "She is
awakening." He held up the datapad that the underling had brought to
him, and it flew across the room, presumably into the Dark Lord's
hand. After a pause, there came a molten smile.

"Excellent," said the Dark Lord. "Soon, all the realms will know

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