ASH: ASH #119 - City of Night Prologue: Heropolis Delenda Est

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Thu Oct 18 14:59:32 PDT 2012

     [The cover shows a city hall flying a blue and red striped flag with a
single white star.  The scene is dissolving from the lower left, with only
blackness in that corner.  In the upper right is the copy, "A Multiverse

 '|`  /|(`| |   City of Night Prologue: Heropolis Delenda Est
     /-|.)|-|        copyright 2012 by Dave Van Domelen

                       ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL

CODENAME       REAL NAME                POWERS                   ASSIGNMENT
--------       ---------                ------                   ----------
Solar Max      Jonathan Zachary         Spacetime Control        AMERICA
                 "JakZak" Taylor
Meteor         Sarah Grant-Taylor       Superspeed               AMERICA
Poniente       Esmeralda Colina         Wind Mage                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

[August 31, 2012 - Everywhere, Another Earth]

     While his first and last physical appearance had been over a generation
ago, everyone recognized the face of the ravager of realities, a godlike
entity who had nearly devoured the world in his quest for infinite power,
before being trapped in a shadowy pocket dimension.  After all, very few
still alive had met Hitler, but most people would recognize him if he
appeared as a giant vision in the skies.
     The world caught its breath for a moment.  If he had escaped his prison,
it could well mean the end of everything, especially with the world still
reeling from crises that included an interdimensional invasion, the
resurgence of an ancient god of death, and the demise of the world's foremost
     No one was expecting what happened next, nor did anyone think things
could possibly be made worse than they already seemed.
     "I am sorry," the mad god said, casting his gaze downward.  "I have
failed, and because of that, everything that is will cease to be."
     A billion voices cried out in disbelief.  The ravager heard them all,
and replied with infinite sorrow.  "Yes, it was an end I sought once,
although I had intended reality to end as part of me.  But I did not
realize...  I did not KNOW.  Once I was forced by my imprisonment to spend
long decades in contemplation, I discovered that I had doomed all that is
when I first absorbed my alternate self and his entire world.  It was like a
pinprick in a balloon, a pinprick I foolishly enlarged with every passing
conquest.  From my prison I saw what I had done, and worked great magics to
stanch the bleeding wound.  It would take centuries to make the repairs
permanent, and then perhaps an eternity to find a new path to the power I
     Then a pause, embarrassed.
     "I did not expect a mortal to take advantage of my inattention to steal
away the majority of my remaining power.  It was only for a fleeting instant
as I reckon such things, but it was an instant too much.  All of the
reflections of this primal reality have started to collapse, the ripples in
the fabric of unreality are calming.  One by one the reflections will be
stilled, and when they are all gone, the world will...stop.
     "Make such peace as you can.  There is no escape, there is no heaven or
hell you will be consigned to.  Future, past and present will all cease at
once.  It will simply end.  And now I will spend my remaining days tending to
the few worshippers I have remaining in my prison."

               *              *              *              *

[November 30, 2012 - near Cumberland, Rhode Island, Another Earth]

     "The last portal has shut down," a lab-coated scientist looked up from
his terminal.  To his left, a Chinese sorceror covered in arcanely glowing
tattoos carefully placed the last strokes on a scroll, using ink formed in
part from the blood of heroes.  To his right, a shaman wearing the skin of a
defeated foe chanted to gods who no longer existed, but still had power.
"We're all alone now, all of the other worlds have winked out...or have
become utterly inaccessible, which is about the same thing, as far as we're
     The mood in the Smith farmhouse was somber.  Most of the cities had
fallen to chaos as people gave in to despair and ran rampant, settling old
scores or seeking to gain as much mindless pleasure as possible before the
end.  Two hundred or so had been granted sanctuary on the farm, protected by
the monstrous owner of the property and a bizarre mix of his allies and
former enemies.
     "This plan gonna work?" the farmer asked.  His grandfatherly manner was
at odds with his appearance, mutated by a mix of recreational and
supersoldier drugs brewed up by his worthless grand-nephew in the now-ruined
barn.  Green skin, buldging muscles, small horns on his head, and an affinity
for the earth that had only grown over time, all of these things marked him
as being far from the retired farmer he'd been only a few years ago.
     "If it doesn't, we won't have long to beat ourselves up over it," a
woman hovering near the ceiling smirked.  
     "If it doesn't work, Miss Venturi," the scientist shrugged, "You and
Mr. Smith will probably be consumed by the process and won't have to worry
about seeing the end of the world."
     The sorceror looked up from his completed scroll.  "The Qian-kun Gate will
work.  The troll's link to primal Earth and the woman's link to the Sky are
more than sufficient to open the gate.  The only question is whether it will
lead anywhere."
     "It is important that it not," the shaman interjected.  "All places will
soon cease.  Even the un-place of banishment where my gods sleep will be
undone.  We must reach beyond everywhere that is, can be, and even beyond
what cannot be."
     "Even if it works, we'll probably only be able to save the people at the
farm," the scientist warned.  "And most of the simulations I've run say we'll
just be shoving everyone into a cosmic garbage disposal anyway."
     "Better a tiny chance than no chance, better a handful than none, Doctor
Clancy," Venturi shrugged.
     "Eyyyyup," Smith agreed.
     "All is in readiness," the sorceror rolled up his scroll and stood.
"The sooner we begin, the better our chances of saving a few pathetic
survivors before everything ceases to be."
     "Hey, no need to be so bitter about it, Hsiang," Venturi smiled.  "You
guys let everyone think you were bad guys for decades while you prepped to
defeat the god of death, but we won that fight.  At least a few people might
remember what you did, and know you were good guys."
     Unspoken was the fact that Hsiang, the nameless shaman and Dr. Clancy
would have to stay on the wrong side of the portal.  It would require all of
their efforts to keep it open; should even one divert his attention from the
task it would likely collapse.  There would be no salvation for the three of
them.  The two heroes would probably die as well, their entire beings
consumed to become the gate, but there was maybe a one in three chance that
they'd get spat out the far end once the gate collapsed.
     So IF it worked, and IF it went anywhere that people could survive,
Jedediah Zebulon Smith and Sharon Venturi MIGHT still be alive to help the
handful of other, less powerful superhumans protect the refugees from
whatever lay on the other side.
     "Could be worse," Sharon smirked.  "Could be raining."
     "Rain might actually be helpful," Hsiang walked out into the chilly
November afternoon.  "But it would more likely snow today...."

               *              *              *              *

[December 24, 2026 - Chicago, Illinois Sector]

     "Look, I'm just saying, it doesn't pay to make holiday plans around you
guys," Darran shrugged.  "In '22 you caught the Template Killer on Christmas
Eve.  In '23 there was Kasca's attack here, plus the CSV debuted a few days
after Christmas.  '24 was amazingly quiet on Christmas, but now we know
Doublecross was setting up his Paris Mirror about that time.  And last year,"
he looked over to where Nancy Balzer was scolding her adopted son, whose face
was smeared with frosting from the double handful of Christmas cookies he'd
crammed into it, "well, it was pretty busy too."
     "It's still important we try," JakZak countered the DSHA analyst.
"Really, it's hard to point at any time of year as being reliably quiet for
us.  And on a team with as big a mix of faiths and non-faiths as we have," he
glanced from Esmeralda to Arin to Lightfoot and back to Darren, "there's not
a lot of holidays we can really all have in common.  We need to feel like
normal people sometimes, and not just soldiers constantly at war.  And if
that means offering up a softball pitch to Murphy by holding a Christmas
party, so be it."
     As if summoned by the attention, Esmeralda picked up her glass of punch
and headed over to JakZak and Darran.  "So, my first Christmas with the
famous Academy of Super-Heroes.  What disaster will befall us this year?"
     "SEE?  SEE?" Darran pointed at the young mage.  "It's a Thing.  Soon
it'll be a cliche.  Now we're going to get a horde of vampire Santas coming
down the chimney tonight, or a floating island full of superintelligent
hamsters, or super plant bombs, or the second coming or TYMYTHY TWYSTYD!"
     Esmeralda chuckled.  "Ah, for the days when holiday stress just meant
having to deal with family.  But in all seriousness, the Solstice is a very
important time, mystically.  Even if the gods have largely turned their gaze
away from us, there's so much symbolic magic around this time of year that it
always makes me nervous.  Moreso this year."
     "Because of the company?" JakZak arched an eyebrow.
     "Partially," Esmeralda admitted.  "But feels like something is
coming.  Like a god, but not.  And I'm not certain it's even a bad thing, but
there's so much mystic 'chaff' up this time of year it's hard to tell.
Especially since I'm still growing accustomed to my newly expanded
     JakZak nodded.  While it was great to have another elemental mage around
on Earth again to replace the exiled Peregryn, no one was completely happy
with the fact that as Poniente, Esmeralda served a semi-divine wind spirit
out of Lakota myth.  Eya existed in that uncertain zone between mortal and
divine, much like the spirits ruling China these days did, but what if the
true gods who once associated with him were drawn back to Earth by his
activity?  The attention of the gods had nearly destroyed the world a
generation ago, after all...even "good guy" ones like Wakinyan was supposed
to be. 
     "Merry Christmas," Darran hoisted his mug of mulled cider.  "Hope you
survive the experience."

               *              *              *              *

[December 26, 2026 - Cumberland, Rhode Island Sector]

     "So, Cory, place still like you remember it?"
     "Hm?  Eh, you know what they say, you can't go home again.  I guess it
hasn't changed much, but I sure have," he leaned back in the park bench.  It
was unseasonably warm, so they were having a green Christmas despite earlier
predictions of a bad winter.  The weathermen blamed it on the Project
Winterlight thing.  On average it was returning things more or less to
normal, but weather was always chaotic, and some places were still too cold
and others too warm.  Covering up the Sun for a while and then compensating
by detonating something or other in orbit might make all the numbers add up
to normal, but....
     "Can you believe they're trying to merge the sectors again?" his friend
rolled his eyes towards the heavens.
     "Is that your subtle way of saying I should use my celebrity status to
rally people against it?" Cory smirked.  "I had a couple hits back in '18
when jazz was popular for a few months, I'm not exactly an A-lister."
     "Well, you *have* played for governors and senators, you have at least a
little access."
     "Sure, but...what the hell is that?" Cory stumbled to his feet, pointing
at several glowing lines that appeared on Diamond Hill Road, hovering in
mid-air.  Three long horizontal lines on top, two columns of three shorter
lines below them.  
     People started staggering out of the glowing symbol, haggard and looking
like they'd been walking for days.  Some still wore heavy coats which they
now started to shed, others had tied the coats around their waists or simply
abandoned any heavier outfits they might have once worn.
     Many were falling to the ground and kissing it, and only the general
weariness of the crowd seemed to be keeping them from whooping with joy.
     Cory fumbled with his phone and pressed the panic button, sending
automated messages to the local police.  Then he realized this might be a
little beyond their jurisdiction.  "I don't suppose you know the contact info
for the local DSHA office?"  Yep, definitely seemed more a job for the
Department of Super-Human Affairs.
     There were now at least a hundred people, maybe two hundred, milling
around in the park, weary and confused.  It was hard to estimate the crowd
size, though, because it seemed to Cory like they shared maybe a dozen or so
faces among all of them.  Was this some family reunion that got dumped
through a glowy portal?
     The last few people to emerge stumbled as if forcibly propelled...and
moments later the lines in the air flared brightly and there was a
thunderclap that momentarily stunned everyone, Cory included.  
     When his vision cleared, he saw a hulking green man with a white beard
down on one knee, and a woman in blue and red aviator leathers and a faceless
metal helmet with eyeslits hovered over the green man.  Literally hovered,
like a meter or two above the ground.
     "I think the DSHA already got called," Cory's friend pointed at a trio
of approaching helicopters.

     A few minutes later, the government agents had cordoned off the park,
determined Cory and his friend were locals, and segregated them from the
     "The gate looked like this," Cory sketched the lines on his phone
     "A hexagram," the DSHA agent frowned.  "That mystic support can't get
here soon enough," he muttered to himself.
     "You got here awfully quickly yourself.  Were you expecting this?"
Cory's friend asked.
     "Not this specifically.  As you might have heard, ASH has a new mage
Earth-side, and she had a feeling something would happen in this part of the
sector, so we were on high...but quiet...alert.  She's in Providence, and
should be here..."
     The agent was interrupted by a disturbance from inside the main cordon.
The flying woman was arguing with a group of agents led by one of the
Marshals, and was gesturing at them as if she expected it to have some
effect.  Surprised that nothing happened, she was quickly subdued by the
Marshal's shock baton.
     "I'm afraid you're going to have to leave now," the agent turned back to
Cory and his friend.  "We're sending you to medical quarantine, there's no
way of knowing what might have come through the portal with them...if it's
any consolation, I'm going to have to go through quarantine as well.  We
weren't expecting to need full bio gear," he frowned.  "Don't worry about
your holidays being ruined, though.  If you're clean, we should have you
cleared through in a few hours.  We've got some paranormal medicos at the
site in Providence."
     "I was in Manhattan in '98," Cory shrugged.  "I've been through worse...."     

               *              *              *              *

[December 26, 2026 - Pawtucket, Rhode Island Sector]

     "The good news is, in purely mundane and physical terms, the worst of it
is exhaustion.  Leaving aside a few conditions I'm assured were pre-
existing," the DSHA medic gestured with her compad.  "On the other hand, they
seem to be suffering from some significant memory issues."
     "We all are, Doctor Garrett," the large green man sighed.  "Can't even
remember the name of my idiot grand-nephew.  But I *can* remember Sharon
here, or even Hsiang, who I barely know and who got left behind."  Even his
accent seemed muted, as if he was only vaguely aware he'd spent eighty years
in rural New England.
     "The trauma psychs are pretty sure this is a magic thing," Dr. Garrett
added.  "Because it doesn't follow the usual patterns of traumatic memory
     Poniente exchanged a look with the mystic portrait of Peregryn that
allowed the exiled mage instantaneous communication from Venus, then nodded.
"Names have power in magic, they are a large part of defining reality.  If,
as you've told us, your reality has ceased to be...then all of the names have
as well.  You retain your own names, but cities, organizations, relatives...
if the name doesn't belong to you, you have lost it.  Jedediah, if you search
your memories, you might be able to tell if your grand-nephew is a Smith or
not, but if not, you won't know his family name either."
     "That would explain how I know Hsiang is part of a group, remember
fighting hordes of his comrades, but I can't recall what the group is
CALLED," Sharon shook her head.  "But...I do remember he's Chinese.  How do I
remember China, remember Rhode Island, but not remember, not remember...the
     The portrait spoke next.  "The principle of sympathy.  Our world has a
China, a Rhode Island.  But it does not have the city you cannot remember.
So you lost that name, but latched onto identical names here."
     "Why don't I know the local equivalent?  You've said we're near a coastal
city called Providence, which is unfamiliar to me, but if we've acclimated,
why don't I think of Providence as being the city I know?" Sharon asked.  "Or
one of the other cities around here?  The population density on the coast is
too high for there NOT to be a city in the right spot, even if it's a small
     Poniente shrugged, choosing to leave aside the point about population
density.  No need to tell the refugees that they'd come to an Earth with
barely a third the population of the one they'd left.  "Nature abhors
violations of the walls between realities, and seeks to repair damage.  But
scars do not always heal cleanly, or quickly.  To be honest, I don't even
know why you have any powers, the source of your abilities is not the native
magic, what scientists call Violation Physics."
     Sharon barked a bitter laugh.  "Yeah, I guess I can still hover, and I'm
kinda tough and strong, but it's a major step down from the godlike powers
I'd gotten used to.  Jed and I had been mainlining the power of creation
lately, which was how we could be used to power the gate that brought us
     "That answers it, then," Peregryn's portrait replied.  "You must retain
a tiny portion of that power, seeds of your old reality linked to your
spirits.  The other superhumans among the refugees...they lost their powers?"
     The medic consulted her compad.  "That's the strange thing.  While none
of them trip any of the Tesla Index tests, they do still have powers,
sometimes.  The powers come and go."
     "I reckon they come when Miss Venturi or me 're nearby?" Jed asked.  "I
mean, it'd make sense.  If we're all that's left of the wellspring of power
from our home, then being near us might let some of the others use their
powers too."
     "Worth checking out," Dr. Garrett nodded, adding a note to her compad.
"Speaking of names, do either of you have codenames?  I noticed a few of the
supers in your group went by them...a couple couldn't even remember having
real names."
     Sharon shook her head.  "I don't know how it is here, but there were
thousands of registered superheroes and villains in the city and the isles.
And a long history of being that crowded, so no matter how rough things got
we kept to the registry.  No point spending all our time fighting over the
same handful of good names.  So when I came to the hero game late, I decided
my given name was good enough.  Even kind of described my powers.  Human
rocket, that sort of thing."
     "Kinda sorta in my case," the ogre shrugged.  "I registered as Ol' Jed,
since that's what people were callin' me.  I suppose I could also have gone
as J.Z...."
     "That might cause some confusion around here," Poniente smirked.  "We
had a problem like that in the Twentieth Century, but the ranks of
superhumans were thinned rather aggressively a generation ago.  Codenames are
largely a matter of marketing for the few of us now, and there are very few
who use them to protect a secret identity."
     "2026," Sharon shook her head.  "And here I thought it only FELT like
we'd been walking for fourteen years."
     Dr. Garrett chuckled.  "No, the medical evidence agrees with the
timekeeping devices carried by your people.  It was a three day subjective
     "Our reality has been shielded until recently by a powerful barrier
against interdimensional travel," Peregryn's portrait explained.  "Most
likely, your gateway latched onto the closest spot where the walls between
realities had weakened enough to allow entry.  The year 2012 was nearly in
the middle of the interdicted era."
     "I'm too old to learn an entire new history," Jed sighed.

               *              *              *              *

[December 28, 2026 - Pawtucket, Rhode Island Sector]

     "So, should I be worried at how by-the-book this is going?" DSHA Refugee
Management Officer Keiko Takashi asked as she gestured down the hotel
hallway.  "Clean medically, human out to six decimal places...although kinda
weird how so many of them look alike, maybe they had cloning on their
Earth...but nothing has come up that's really outside what we covered in
     "Hey, the book is based on a LOT of weirdness that went down in the
TwenCen," RMO Clive Jackson shrugged.  "The PITA of our forebears is the SOP
of our enlightened generation.  I'm just glad that the first major modern
interdimensional incursion is refugees without something nipping at their
heels.  I mean, we've had a few nasties come through, like TerraStar, but no
invading armies."
     This was, of course, when the screaming started.
     "I blame you," Clive picked up his shock baton and headed towards the
sound.  "Taunting Murphy like that."
     Other than a handful of the more serious medical cases, all of the
normal human refugees had been moved into local hotels, shuffling the few
"native" visitors out quickly and efficiently.  Fortunately, it was a slow
season for Pawtucket.  The DSHA agents tasked with keeping an eye on them
were half guard, half therapist, trained to deal with this sort of situation
but never having faced it before.
     "We all died, I tell you!" the screaming now could be made out as
words.  "But R...the ravager lied, hell wasn't destroyed!  We're IN IT!"

               *              *              *              *

[December 28, 2026 - Falcon Bay, Venus]

     Rosa was sleeping contentedly.  Not that his daughter's normal noises
and activity while awake would be enough to distract from Peregryn's use of
the communication spell, but he had enough paternal instinct to feel better
knowing she wouldn't require his attention.
     He focused.  The self-portrait he had painted included his own tears,
spittle and blood, among other components.  This made it a particularly
strong focus for a spell first invented in days when men thought Venus was
the emanation of a goddess rather than a planet like Earth.  The boost in
range the focus granted him let him use the spell even when the two worlds
were on opposite sides of the Sun, when technological means of communication
had to be bounced off several satellites and had a time lag of a quarter of
an hour.
     From one blink to another, the scene shifted.  He now looked out into a
room in a building on Earth, as if he were poking his face through a hole in
the wall.  The sights and sounds of his humble home on Venus were pushed
aside in favor of the new, although a strong enough stimulus could shock him
back to awareness of his true surroundings.
     "Peregryn's here, so we can get started," Solar Max nodded.  Also
present were Solar Max's wife Meteor, the young mage Poniente, the two most
powerful of the interdimensional refugees, another refugee Peregryn did not
recognize, and two DSHA officials.  "Since we last talked and arranged to
bring everyone closer together, there haven't been any more incidents,
Peregryn, so your theory seems to be right."
     Peregryn nodded carefully, not wanting to move so far that he broke
contact with the framed image.  "Not only are Miss Venturi and Mister Smith
the 'batteries' for the supernatural powers of the other refugees, they are
in fact the only thing maintaining the reality of their fellows, powered or
not.  If anyone strays too far, they start to lose contact with their own
reality.  It manifests first as a mental dissociation, but in extreme cases
could result in physical dissolution."
     "It gets worse," Poniente frowned.
     "We're running out of juice," Sharon sighed.  "No real way to say how
long, but it looks like we only bought people a few weeks.  Once the last of
our energy runs out, we'll all vanish."
     "Perhaps not," Peregryn countered.
     "You have an idea?" Solar Max arched an eyebrow.  "Something you can
figure out how to cast before anyone starts vanishing?"
     "If I had to start from first principles, I could not be certain of
saving you all," Peregryn fixed first Sharon and then Jed with a gaze he
hoped came across as reassuring and confident, but was filtered through his
admittedly amateur skills as a painter.  "I don't know how much you may have
been told about my own situation, but my current exile from Earth has many
similarities to your own plight.  While I am far from being able to return to
Earth myself, as part of my research I have investigated rituals to connect
others to the spirit of our world...a precaution in case any of those
repatriated found themselves affected by the shadow of my own exile."
     Solar Max nodded.  "Short version: Montreal got sent to Venus by
accident as a side effect of exiling someone else, but the surviving
inhabitants seem to be able to return to Earth now that the planet's been
terraformed.  We were worried that the people we brought back might be
rejected, but so far everyone seems fine."
     "Can't wait to hear the long version," the other refugee chuckled.  "By
the way, we haven't been introduced.  I'm Technician First Class Henry
Dawes.  Since Dr. Clancy had to stay behind to make sure the gate stayed
open, I'm the senior surviving member of the company that researched
interdimensional travel.  It's been a bit tough figuring things out without
being able to remember most of the *names* of things, but as far as I can
tell, we're pretty doomed, so hopefully your magic can succeed where our
science and magic hit the wall."
     "Technician Dawes, I believe I can tap the remaining spark of your
native reality's power and use it to bind you all to our reality.  It might
cost the superhumans among you their powers, or it might 'translate' your
powers into something our universe understands.  But it should link your
spirits to this world and prevent your dissolution," Peregryn said.
     "Will our memories get rewritten to fit in as well?" Sharon frowned.  "I
think some of the survivors would rather die remembering what little we still
can of our loved ones, than live as someone different."
     Poniente interjected.  "No, I've studied that ritual as well, it would
not replace your memories.  Some more of the analogies should bind in place
to compensate for missing names...for instance, when you think of your city
of heroes and villains, you may well start thinking of it as Providence.  If
your world had an organization dedicated to researching telepathic abilities,
you might map that onto MetaPsych.  And so forth.  But you will still know
you're not from around here, and your personal memories will remain as intact
as they are now.  But whether you'll still be able to fly...I couldn't say."
     "Still, it would be best if you settle in parts of the country
unfamiliar to you," Peregryn warned.  "Living in Rhode Island and constantly
being reminded that the details are incorrect would likely be...
uncomfortable.  In extremis, the Falcon Bay colony could provide a haven for
any who find the not-quite-right Earth to be too much to bear."
     "Falcon Bay...what, is that on Venus?" Technician Dawes asked.  When
Solar Max nodded confirmation, his expression turned speculative.  "I can
think of several people who might actually prefer Venus regardless of whether
Earth can feel like home.  A lot of the survivors came from my company, you
see, and we're into exploration in general.  And the...the Chinese warriors
and mystics in our group might be better off someplace without their local
counterparts as competition.  Not that I think they're going to return to
being crimelord types, but you might not want them hanging about failing to
find honest work."
     One of the DSHA officials shuddered.  "No, I wouldn't like to see any of
your people end up in the paragangs."
     "We're going to have to discuss this," Sharon held up a warning finger.
"It sounds like an all-or-nothing spell, right?  Even if it succeeds,
there'll be no going back.  And if it fails, we probably all die right away
rather than in a few weeks.  We didn't bring along any wimps, mind you, but
everyone's been through a lot, and..."
     "And we don't want to rush the decision," Solar Max assured the woman.
"We'll try to get a better idea of how long you have...nature is going to
demand an answer even if we don't."

               *              *              *              *

[December 29, 2026 - Berlin, Germany]

     "So, my little mote, it seems I have run out of time to play with you,"
Lady Sable purred, holding a spark of darkness suspended between her hands.
"I can feel them gathering the power of the others from your home reality, no
doubt to cast a spell that will help fix them in place and save their lives.
But it would also draw you in, and while you're not the sort of god we know
here, you once were a god, yes?  And there's no telling what would happen if
you were thrown into that ritual.  Other than the fact I would lose you, and
your potential."
     She stood from her underground throne and guided the unglimmer towards a
candle that burned blackly.  "You were once a god of death, that much I can
tell, even if you're not any kind of god I've ever encountered.  But that
puts your power outside the games played by my patroness.  Absorbing you
would give me power that even she cannot detect or counter, diminished as it
might be.
     "Or it could kill me.  Or Nyx could detect what I am doing and slay me
so that she could take you herself."
     Lady Sable shrugged.  "Life is risk, and so is death.  You escaped
several prisons in order to flee a dying world, but I'm afraid you've run out
of lives.  Or unlives."
     She held the mote over the candle and pushed it into the flame.  It
burst in a puff of reddish smoke, which she drew in through her mouth.
     "Ohhhhh yesssss," she whispered, holding the smoke in her lungs as long
as she could and drawing in the essence of an alien god.  It wasn't enough to
put her on a par with even the greater servants of the gods, but it was quite
impressive nonetheless.
     And to test it, there was a plan she'd been toying with for months, but
never seemed to have the resources to enact.
     She had them now.


Next Issue:

     Lady Sable is back, and has plans for her new power...but her new power
may have plans for her, and neither set of plans is going to be pleasant for
anyone in the vicinity!


Author's Notes:

     "City of Night" is a Peter Schilling song about the divided city of
Berlin in the 1980s.  This is one of those arcs I've been sitting on for a
LOOOONG time.  Like, while I was working on City of Light (ASH #37-41, the
"Paris Mirror" thign mentioned in the Christmas party scene) I decided I
wanted to do City of Night as well, with Nyx as the big-bad.  But I kept
pushing it back, not wanting to be too close to the previous Big Epic Thing.
I still don't think the time is right to bring Nyx herself into the game
directly, but I've figured out a way to use the basic ideas of City of Night
via Lady Sable instead.

     The first scene grew out of a fairly simple concept: you know your
world is hosed when the guy who's been trying to destroy it shows up and
apologizes because something else is going to destroy it and he can't stop
it.  In Marvel this would probably be Galactus (if only Earth were in danger)
or Thanos (if all reality was going to go away).  In City of Heroes, it's
Rularuu the Ravager.  And thanks to the City of Heroes writers' bible that's
been circulating, I had a pretty good idea how it would play out.  Of course,
others are welcome to their own explanations in-story of how (or even if!)
the world ends.  A happier view would be that the reality goes merrily on and
we simply lose our window on it, but for the purposes of my story...well,
happy doesn't work as well.

     This issue is mostly about "rescuing" a few of my City of Heroes
characters in a direct way.  Lady Lawful, Doctor Developer, and a few of
their supporting cast all started as Andy's City of Heroes characters, but
they're "native" versions.  Ol' Jed and Sharon Venturi are direct imports,
albeit with the serial numbers mystically excised.  Sharon was my very first
City of Heroes character, a cross between Sharon Ventura (Ms. Marvel) and the
Rocketeer, while Ol' Jed just seemed like a character I could get some good
story potential out of.  After all, in a world where all the superhumans are
twenty-somethings, an octogenarian farmer from rural New England would offer
a rather different point of view.  I also deliberately left the other
surviving superhumans unnamed, so that if I later decided I wanted to rescue
someone else, or another ASH writer did, they could be revealed to have been
part of that group.  But it turns out very few of my CoH characters are
really suitable for import...a lot are already versions of ASH, LNH or
Superguy characters, others carry too much of someone else's trademark (like
my blatant Spider-Man 2099 riff, or the Paranoia RPG character Lee-R-OYJ-5,
all the ponies, and characters who are too tied to City of Heroes lore), and
a lot are just too silly for ASH.

     Because I expect to get some readers for this issue from the City of
Heroes side, I tried to be a little more comprehensive in my exposition, at
the expense of sounding a bit stilted in places.  There's still loads of
backstory I really couldn't fit in without it being totally awkward, but
hopefully there's enough that anyone who hasn't read any previous ASH stories
isn't totally at sea.

     Darran, who still has no last name, first appeared in ASH #47.  All of
his speculative disasters are based on stores in ASH Holiday Special #1
(although the floating island is shamelessly ripped off from Narbonic).
"Cory" is based on a real person from Cumberland, I'll leave his full
identity as an exercise for the readers.  ;)  Hsiang, Doctor Clancey and
Technician Dawes aren't imports of any specific City of Heroes characters,
they're meant to be the sort of "named generic NPC" you see in repeatable
content missions ("Get the Dragoon Balls and defeat Hsiang," or "Rescue
Doctor Clancy from the Rikti," that sort of thing).

     The repeated references to everyone looking the same comes from the fact
that most NPCs in City of Heroes draw from a pool of a couple of dozen
faces.  There's even a few cases of mission-granting contacts differing only
by the color of their tie.  This would seem perfectly normal to the natives,
who would be able to tell each other apart based on subtle cues below the
resolution of the game's graphics, but to a non-native it would be kinda creepy.

     And in case anyone cares, Lady Sable's new toy is a recently defeated
god of death from a pantheon that got itself banished, if you know what I


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to !

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post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at !

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