ASH: ASH #118 - Wake the Wind
Dave Van Domelen
dvandom at eyrie.org
Fri Jun 1 12:05:00 PDT 2012
[cover shows a female figure in a green cloak in the middle of a sere
brown prairie, wind whipping at her.]
.|. COHERENT COMICS UNINCORPORATED presents ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES #118
'|` /|(`| | A Fire Afar Off Epilogue - Wake the Wind
/-|.)|-| copyright 2012 by Dave Van Domelen
ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL
CODENAME REAL NAME POWERS ASSIGNMENT
-------- --------- ------ ----------
Solar Max Jonathan Zachary Spacetime Control AMERICA
Meteor Sarah Grant-Taylor Superspeed AMERICA
Scorch Scott Handleman Pyrokinetic CANADA
Centurion Salvatore Napier Strength, Regeneration MEXICO
Fury Arin Kelsey Concussion Blasts MEXICO
Contact Aaron Zander Psi, Mind-over-Body DIPLOMATIC
Breaker Christina Li Telekinesis DIPLOMATIC
Essay Sara Ana Henderson Gadgeteer VENUS
Peregryn Howard Henderson Jr. Elemental Mage VENUS
Beacon George Sylvester Living Light VENUS
Geode Unknown Living Crystal VENUS
Lightfoot Tom Dodson Velocity Control TRANSIT
[November 7, 1976 - Lincoln, Nebraska]
"Look, I know you really wanted this project to succeed, but you've
gotta face facts. Call it a recession or a depression or whatever, the
economy's not doing so well right now. Once people started really talking
about the project, fundraising ground to a halt. I mean, a bunch of abstract
art is a tough sell even when the economy's great, and we're still not all
they way back from the whole Dimension Z invasion. At least we were able to
keep eight of the ten, hey? That's gotta count for something."
Lucas Wainwright gritted his teeth in barely constrained fury. "Jack,
you don't get it. It's got to be ten. I can't explain why, but I didn't
mortgage my ranch and spend five years working behind the scenes just to get
eight of the ten sculptures." He paced around the room, glaring especially
intently at the artists' conceptions of the two approved but as-yet unfunded
installations that would complete the set. "If I have to, I'll find a way to
get the last ones done with some kind of corporate backing, stick a plaque on
'em plugging the business. I should still have enough leverage in the Unicam
to get permission for that. There's a few businessmen in Omaha who might be
just vain enough to...."
Lucas stopped talking not because he had run out of steam or drifted off
into private musing. No, he stopped talking because a gun was pointed at
him. Well, he assumed it was a gun, although it didn't look like anything
you'd find in service with the cops or army.
"I was afraid of that, Luke. I like you, I really do. I'd hoped to get
this shut down without having to destroy you completely, but it looks like
nothing short of death is going to stop your obsession."
Jack nodded. "It's not a coincidence that we met shortly after you
started this mad quest of yours. I'm part of a group that tries to...shall
we say 'anchor' reality. Keep it from dashing against the shoals of wild
magic. Uphold the pillars of the world. That sort of thing. Once it became
obvious you weren't just a patron of the arts, I was assigned to get close
and make sure. It's a damned shame, too, Lucas. Other than this thing," he
gestured at the unfinished sculptures, "you're a pretty decent guy. But I
never could steer you away from this. Don't worry...it'll look like an
accident. A little too careless because of your anger over the fundraising
failure, but my organization has plenty of experience making sure no one
* * * *
[December 10, 2026 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]
"I seem to spend most of my time lately undergoing security checks,"
Esmeralda sighed. "Although, to be fair, some of that was Glyph's time, I
was busy in a trap spell."
Tom chuckled. "That's the price of coming in from the cold, Miss
Colina. I mean, you *know* the suits were keeping an eye on you from the
moment you started doing work under the table for Sal, right? But there's
still procedures that have to be followed. The world turns, the decades
pass, but paperwork is still paperwork. It's a cosmic force."
"You mean it's *like* a cosmic force?"
Tom shook his head. "No, I guess they didn't tell you about the Office,
did they? Turns out paperwork really is some sort of fundamental part of
nature. And you're making them gear up for procedures no one has really used
yet. You're clearly not the sort of untrained kid the Academy is set up for,
and at least when I got dropped in their laps I was biologically and
psychologically the right age for the college thing. You're more like
someone who's applying for grad school but doesn't have a GED yet."
"And I'm not sure I'm even applying, for that matter," the mageling
shrugged. "The idea of going to Venus to apprentice with Peregryn doesn't
feel right, but I can't just keep studying on my own. There's too many
gaping holes in what I have taught or *can* teach myself, and it's pretty
obvious after the whole thing with Don Quixote's sword that I've gotten
tangled up in the greater weave. Ay, I don't even have a consistent metaphor
for my craft yet, it's all bits and pieces of other peoples' idiom."
"STRAFE might be able to help you with some of those holes," Tom
shrugged. "They've been recruiting a little more rapidly lately, and they're
drawing a lot more heavily on the less criminal of the paragangers...people
with powers and some self-training but not suitable for the Academy. They
might not have much to offer magically, but the practical stuff like avoiding
ambushes and self-defense...those they could do ya for. Not sure they'd want
you as an actual member, given your whole political doom cloud, but they're
set up to help train people at your level of development," he shrugged.
Esmeralda sighed. Some people posted embarrassing pictures of
themselves to the net during their Young And Stupid phase, or got arrested
for partying too hard. She'd managed to get half the Moslem Confederation
angry at her, and even if it was the half that got angry with *everyone*,
that didn't help a whole lot. Translating the Scroll of Lysistrata was
important work, and she didn't regret doing it for Arin, but the consequences
were certainly thorny. If helping hundreds or even thousands of oppressed
women become literate and gain some measure of control over their lives meant
Esmeralda herself would die violently, so be it. But being a walking
diplomatic incident didn't make her path forward any easier. Or make it any
clearer which direction forward even *was*.
"Well, for now I just want to ask questions, see if the answers point
anywhere," Esmeralda replied as mildly as she could manage. "As soon as I'm
cleared to get answers, anyway."
* * * *
[December 13, 2026 - Lexington, Nebraska Sector]
Lupe remembered her abuela always complaining about how Vatican II just
replaced a perfectly good liturgical language she didn't understand with
another one she didn't understand, and at least Latin sounded more spiritual
than English. Nowadays you could just go to a church like St. Anthony's that
offered services in Spanish twice on Sundays and once on Saturday, although
her abuela would probably find something to complain about there too.
Old people seemed to like complaining.
Of course, Lupe was getting a lot closer to being "old people" these
days than she cared to admit. At least abuela Conchita would be surprised
Lupe made it to the ripe old age of fifty...to listen to the woman, everyone
of Lupe's generation was going to die horribly before reaching adulthood.
She'd almost been right. '98 wasn't a good year for anyone, but at
least Lexington had been hit less hard than a lot of places. And if things
had been on the verge of collapse for a while...well, people pulled together.
They were poor, which meant they had less far to fall, they were less
bothered by what was missing during those hard few years.
And something good had come of it, if things hadn't been falling apart
she wouldn't have ever met Dwayne. Her abuela wouldn't have approved of her
marrying him, but Conchita...hadn't made it through the worst years.
"Senora Williams?" one of the Gomez boys in the pew in front of her
turned to ask. His own parents had to work Sunday mornings, so Lupe watched
the kids. Her own had finally gotten old enough to mind themselves, and she
found she missed it.
"Ssh, Noah, don't interrupt the sermon," Lupe hissed back in her best
"But the church is starting to shake."
Nebraska was always windy, but Noah was right. This was much worse than
normal, and "normal" had been getting worse every year for almost as long as
Lupe could remember.
Then the roof was gone.
Chaos erupted, sharp wintry wind howled through the congregation,
tearing at hair, plucking away the coats most had draped on the backs of
their pews, snuffing the candles and whipping the scattered pages of hymnals
into a whirlwind of paper and smoke.
Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over.
Distantly, as if through cotton, Lupe could hear car alarms sounding in
the parking lot. The screaming sounded as if it were coming from a
television in another room, and her head pounded as if she'd just run up five
flights of stairs.
"Noah?" she gasped, hardly hearing the sound coming out of her own
A hand tugged at her skirt. Noah's mouth was moving, but Lupe couldn't
make out the words. The few things she could hear were rapidly being drowned
out by a rising whine.
Then the world turned red, and gray, and black.
* * * *
[December 14, 2026 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]
"...no deaths, but a lot of people in the hospital. Some with the kinds
of problems you'd expect from mountain climbers, not people on the plains."
"Falling?" Esmeralda asked, still not entirely sure why she'd been asked
to the briefing. It wasn't a full team meeting...not that the full team
could actually meet in person anywhere but Venus...just a few support people
and the handful of supers who had been in Chicago that day. Which meant
Lightfoot, Beacon and Breaker, although all three were expected elsewhere
soon. That, in fact, might be why Esmeralda was asked to sit in. She had
nowhere else she had to be.
Not that she knew, anyway. Fate probably had other plans, it always
"No, high altitude sickness," the DSHA functionary shook his head.
"Abnormal pressure drops beyond what could be expected from the chimney
effect. In any case, while weather is always literally a chaotic subject,
some disturbing patterns have been arising in Nebraska Sector, things that
don't seem attributable to Sultry...directly or indirectly...and would seem
to be running counter to what you'd expect from the recent reduction of solar
activity. And before anyone asks, the pattern extends back before either
that event or the recent orbital detonation, although the really obvious
events have only been taking place for about a month. More disturbing, the
problems are confined to Nebraska sector...even areas of surrounding sectors
that share climatological types with Nebraska are seeing no significant
changes to their weather. And while we have not actually gotten reports of a
phenomenon halting at the border like some sort of cartoon, the pattern is
already suspiciously confined."
"Which suggests a spell of some sort," Esmeralda nodded. With Peregryn
trapped on Venus, ASH was short on elementally attuned mages. Or mages of
any kind...the Academy hadn't turned out anything but hermetics since 2022.
Good at research, lousy at practice. It was almost like nature was only
willing to put up with so many full-bore sorcerors and confined the rest to
libraries. And now Esme had been let out of the library, lucky her.
"While you're not officially attached to the Academy of Super-Heroes,"
the functionary looked directly at Esmeralda, "you have passed the background
checks, and of course there's the Strategic Paranormal Reserve clause that
could be invoked to give you official standing should you need it in the
course of any investigations."
Left unsaid was that the same clause could be invoked to compel
Esmeralda to help or face some unpleasant sanctions. Legally, every
paranormal in the North American Combine was subject to conscription during
emergencies, or under any circumstances where the Department of Super-Human
Affairs deemed their talents were vital to the national interest. Mind you,
no one actually thought it was a good idea to coerce a mage, but the best
stick is one that merely provides contrast to the carrot without ever having
to be used. To the best of Esmeralda's knowledge, the only people who had
been conscripted under that clause were those former paragangers working with
STRAFE that Tom had mentioned, and even then they were usually provided
positive inducements to play along. Still, the existence of that law was one
of the reasons she'd stayed as far from official standing as possible for so
"I'd be happy to investigate," was all that she actually said aloud,
* * * *
[December 15, 2026 - Kearney, Nebraska Sector]
A short stop in the Sector capital of Lincoln to talk to the COAA
meteorologists there had confirmed the initial reports. The weather in
Nebraska had been getting abnormally windy for a while. Most of the reports
stayed fairly close to the Intensive Use road running East-to-West across the
Sector, but that was also where most of the people lived, so it was hard to
say if that was part of the pattern.
But it had been a chance remark that made Esmeralda stop a few dozen
kilometers short of Lexington, at one of the rest stops built along I-80.
"I'm surprised the Wind Sculpture isn't halfway to Ravenna by now," one of
the weathermen had said. It had felt like an omen when Esmeralda heard it,
although she couldn't put her finger on why.
Now, however, she knew she had the key.
"A grenade without a pin..." she muttered, the howling winds keeping her
DSHA minder from hearing the comment. She could feel the mystic power
radiating from the unassuming piece of steel sculpture, almost stronger than
the physical wind, and much colder. An abstract shape made up of steel discs
and evocative of a waterlily, its nameplate plaque merely claimed it to be
"one of ten sculptures specially commissioned as part of Nebraska's
celebration of the nation's Bicentennial." She supposed the idea was that it
would drift about on the artificial pond next to the freeway rest stop,
although the thin crust of ice on the water currently prevented that.
"I need to know more about this sculpture, and the George Baker who
crafted it," she told the DSHA agent. It was definitely important, she could
feel that. But Kearney was hardly a focal point for the wind storms, so the
other nine sculptures must have been important as well.
"The public library up the road probably has something," the agent
suggested, consulting her graycell.
"Let us head there, then," Esmeralda nodded. "And tag that as a
dangerous mystic artifact," she pointed at the sculpture. "If it were
emitting radiation instead of magic, this would be another Wichita."
* * * *
[December 16, 2026 - Lincoln, Nebraska Sector]
The Kearney library had been maddeningly incomplete on the topic of the
other sculptures, although Esmeralda had at least determined that the project
was cancelled after only eight had been completed, and the one in Kearney was
the only one to specifically involve wind. They were all fairly abstract
constructs of metal and sometimes concrete, modern art intended to create an
impression rather than look like anything in particular, although the
bandshell memorial did look something like a bandshell. Officially,
fundraising had simply dried up due to the recession of the late 1970s
combined with some delays caused by the state requiring a public comment
period, and nothing she could find in Kearney could prove otherwise.
That meant traveling back to the Sector capital and throwing her
Strategic Paranormal Reserve status around to get her access to the records
morgue. If there were any clues to the true reasons behind the cancellation
of the program, they would not have been imported to the computerized system
unless the person in charge of that knew they were important. And Esmeralda
suspected that the only people who knew the importance of the information
were the ones who wanted to keep it hidden.
"In the really good conspiracies, it's not what you find that's
suspicious," she whispered as she pored over old microfiche rolls well past
midnight, "it's what you don't find. You can always remove incriminating
evidence, but it's much MUCH harder to fill in the hole with something
And what was missing was any evidence of the plans for the two missing
sculptures. All she had were artists and the titles of the pieces, but given
the highly abstract nature of the eight existing works that wasn't enough to
go on. They may have never gotten the final go-ahead, but every other piece
had a small scale model submitted well in advance of actual production...so
why nothing for "Seed of Nebraska" or "Platte River Ribbon"?
Someone didn't want anyone being able to complete the original design.
Combine that with the fact that the Wind Sculpture was clearly accumulating
elemental power, and it screamed "trigger device" to Esmeralda. Whoever put
an end to the project must not have known that the eight finished works were
still enough to do something...just not what the designer originally
intended. And now that partial result was sending mystic wind storms howling
through the Sector.
Esmeralda cleared the table and laid a large map of the Sector flat on
it. "Help me with this," she asked the DSHA agent. She started placing
small photos of the eight known sculptures on the map, aligning them
carefully. "I think I know what's happening, even without the missing
information. I'm pretty sure all the other two sculptures were supposed to
do is channel the power somewhere, and we should have enough to see how the
power is being collected."
"The wind power?"
"Wind may be a side effect, I think whoever was behind this project was
after bigger game than an elemental," Esmeralda frowned. The design was
well-hidden, much of each sculpture was purely decorative. But when you
spent as much time studying mystic symbolism as she had, you started to
recognize the important things hidden in the angles and curves.
"Ay, mierde," she hissed.
"Probably, yeah. This is a trap for a god. And it caught something.
Maybe not a god, but something big. Something that is getting increasingly
angry, and won't be held forever...."
* * * *
[December 16, 2026 - Broken Bow, Nebraska Sector]
In a howl that sounded like a monster the size of the entire world, the
town of Broken Bow was wiped off the map, winds faster than any recorded on
Earth razing every structure that stuck up above the ground.
It took them a month to find all of the corpses.
* * * *
[December 17, 2026 - Kearney, Nebraska Sector]
"I don't like this idea!" Solar Max shouted to be heard over the howling
of the wind. "If it gets loose, the entire Sector could end up like Broken
"It's getting loose on its own!" Esmeralda shouted back. "A matter of
days, weeks at most! The trap wasn't meant to last forever, and even
stainless steel wears out if enough winters pass! If I free it, I might be
able to convince it to stop lashing out!"
It had taken Lightfoot pushing his power to the limit, but most of the
active membership of ASH had been assembled in the middle of windswept
Nebraska. They weren't exactly sure what they could do against a wind god,
but they were among the only people alive who'd faced an angry god and
survived the experience, so it wasn't like there were better people for the
"Just make sure I don't blow away!" Esmeralda shouted, stepping out from
behind shelter and forcing her way through the wind towards the sculpture.
It was the keystone, the physical form of the trap. The other seven
sculptures had herded the windgod inward, and the petals of the steel flower
held it fast. But just hitting the thing with one of Fury's blasts wasn't
going to do much good if the spirit inside couldn't be calmed down first.
Solar Max warped gravity around Esmeralda, blunting the worst of the
winds and anchoring her to the frosty ground. She felt like she weighed a
ton, and maybe she did. Like most paranormals, she was stronger than any
human, and it wasn't often that she actually felt weighed down.
The last few steps would be the most dangerous. The sculpture was
several meters from shore, but the ice was too thin to support her enhanced
weight. Solar Max had suggested that he or Breaker pull the sculpture
closer, but that felt like a bad idea. Interactions of powers might break
the trap too soon. So she'd just have to risk hypothermia and literally take
the plunge. The real risk was that the mud at the bottom would be too thick
for her to move through.
Knives of ice lashed at her, through heavy winter clothing and such
protective spells as she felt she could risk keeping active. A normal person
probably would have been dead by this point, she realized. Things had
escalated incredibly in the past few days, and she couldn't help thinking
that her proximity to the sculpture a few days ago had pushed things into
overdrive. So that meant she had even more reason than before to be the one
to fix it. The souls of the dead of Broken Bow were owed at least that much
penance on her part.
Finally, waist-deep in water that actually felt warmer than the air,
because it had no wind driving it, Esme removed a glove and placed her right
hand on the ice-rimed steel.
"Spirit, I am here to free you!" she cried out with voice and mind and
YOU CANNOT FREE THE WEST WIND, FOR THE WEST WIND CANNOT BE HELD!
Esmeralda gasped as the ferocity of the gale tore the breath from her
lungs. A flood of imagery impressed itself upon her...a bird, a spirit, the
brothers that were the four winds. A name.
"Eya, the men who did this are long dead!" she wheezed. "Do not punish
the innocent! We will free you!" Every breath sent new and sharper pain
deep inside her chest.
YOU SWEAR, PARTBLOOD?
If anything, that chilled Esmeralda more than the wind could. Eya might
not be a god in the sense that Odin or Set were, but it knew the names of
old, the Fullbloods who became gods, and the Partbloods who were mere
UNDERSTAND, IF YOU UNBIND ME, YOU WILL BE BOUND TO ME. YOU MAY PREFER
TO LET ME FREE MYSELF.
From what little Esmeralda could see through tear-streaked and stinging
eyes, no one else seemed to hear the voice, even though it sounded to her
loud enough to crack open the heavens.
"I...under...stand," she gasped. With her free hand, she freed the
pouch from her belt and shoved it as deep into the petals of the stainless
steel flower as she could make it go, then staggered back to the shore.
Barely able to move, she raised her ungloved hand, distantly noticing
that it was covered with blood from where it had pulled away from being
frozen to steel, and gave the signal. Not a mystic gesture, but a firmly
Fire bloomed within the flower. The petals sagged and fell off,
breaking the geometries required for the trap to function.
INTERESTING SPELL. WHAT DO YOU CALL IT?
"Thermite," she gasped.
And then the booming voice and the wind were gone. Consciousness
followed suit almost immediately after that.
* * * *
[December 18, 2026 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]
"I'm glad I heal faster than normals do, but I'll be more glad when my
hand stops ITCHING," Esmeralda snarled at her bandaged right hand, then
coughed. One couldn't bandage a lung.
"Well, it's a small enough price to pay," Lightfoot smiled. "Welcome to
the big leagues, I guess. I'd say not many people face godlike power on
their first mission with ASH, but it sure seems like a lot of us DO."
There were several objections that started to come to her lips. But
then she smiled back. "I suppose I *am* part of ASH now, in spirit if not by
the letter of the law. Fate's made that pretty clear...I'm not returning to
my monastic cell any time soon." Unsaid was the fact that the pain and
itching were only the smallest portion of the price she suspected she'd paid
to free Eya and save the Sector from devastation. But the rest of the price
would come later, and the burden might not be so terrible in the long run.
She *had* been looking for a path in life, so it would be ungrateful to
complain that she had gotten one, no?
"I just hope not every case will involve cleaning up after artifacts of
the Second Age," Esmeralda willed herself to stop scratching. "Don Quixote's
sword, some unknown mage's god-trap...I shudder to think that there might be
some sort of mystical item tied to disco that needs stopping."
"Disco is undead? Well, if you're going to lay it to rest, you're going
to need a codename, a costume, the works," Lightfoot chuckled. "If you're
lucky, Julie'll help with the costume. But if you don't pick a name,
someone'll probably pick one for you. Hey, speaking of doing that, how about
Emerald? It's close to your name, and it's got an ASH legacy," he arched an
EMerald had been one of the longer-serving leaders of the Third Age
incarnation of ASH, wearing a suit of power armor that gave her
electromagnetic powers, hence the capitalized "EM" in the name. It was
certainly sufficiently unlike Esmeralda's own skill set that it was unlikely
to bring any mystic resonance down on her, but...
"I think I already have one. Eya has given me a direction, I believe I
will follow it. They can call me Poniente, the west wind...."
No plans at this point.
A completely self-contained story with no cutaways to subplots? Quite
possibly unprecedented in this series. :) But I decided I wanted to get
this story out in one piece, rather than stretching things out by
interweaving other stories. The inspiration came from seeing the Nebraska
Wind Sculpture during my job interview visit for a one-year position at
University of Nebraska - Kearney, and I wanted to get the story told before
that position ended and I moved on...and I finished the proofreading half an
hour before giving the final exam of my last class at UNK. (Although I
waited a bit before posting, in order to have a story for June 2012.)
Originally, this was an arc idea to start in #114 and bring Esmeralda on
the stage, but it's a sign of how long I'd let ASH go unwritten in late 2011
that when I went to start typing up the idea I found I'd already plotted out
A Fire Afar Off (#114-117) to do the same thing! Oops. So I decided to make
it an epilogue, or maybe a short followup arc, and shelved the research I'd
done on the Nebraska Wind Sculpture for later.
http://www.sheldonartmuseum.org/education/I-80/works.html has some more
information about the Nebraska sculptures. Some of them look like they'd
make fine improvised brawling weapons. The Kearney one isn't really visible
from in town, and there's people who have lived in Kearney their entire lives
and never heard of the thing.
No, the Wichita nuke crater wasn't actually particularly radioactive, as
established back in ASH #25. But to most people, Esme included, things that
get hit with atomic weaponry tend to be radioactive.
Eya, the West Wind, is the first among the four wind brothers in Lakota
mythology, and accompanies the Wakinyan (thunderbird). Whether the spirit in
this story is the fully divine Eya himself, or a semi-divine spirit who has
taken the name is probably impossible for mortals to ever know for sure.
The traditional maritime name for the west wind is Ponente, but Poniente
is the Spanish variant on the term. Mistral (Northwest) and Scirocco
(Southeast, I see what you did there, City of Heroes) are other cardinal
winds, in addition to all being named after specific geographic winds. *The*
Ponente is a wind that blows through the Straits of Gibraltar, for instance,
but *a* Ponente is any westerly.
For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !
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