[ASH] ASH #125 - City of Night Part 6: Doorway Into Night

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at eyrie.org
Mon Oct 11 11:18:53 PDT 2021

     [cover is dominated by a polished black wood mask that is carved
      in the image of a man's face, but there is only darkness behind
      the eye and mouth holes.  Fainly reflected in the wood is the
      helmet of Solar Max's armor.]

 '|`  /|(`| |   City of Night Part 6 of 6 - Doorway Into Night
     /-|.)|-|        copyright 2021 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

[January 22, 2027 - Eurasian Union General Assembly, Prague]

     The time for small planning meetings was over, and the main assembly
hall of the Eurasian Union had been borrowed for this occasion.  Rather than
representatives of the EU member nations and their staffs, though, the seats
were filled with members of the EU's "hero team" EUROPA, the North American
Combine's Academy of Super-Heroes, trans-national response team STRAFE, and
even represenatives of powers like Khadam, Q'Nos, and the Venusian colonies.
     The EUROPAn contingent included superhumans Ymir, Oni, Justice,
Tytanika, and Hotspur, plus several non-powered agents.  Their leader, Arc,
was at the front, at a table next to the main podium.
     ASH's leader Solar Max sat next to Arc, with another block of seats
taken by Essay, Lightfoot, Beacon, Scorch, Poniente, Contact, Breaker,
Fury, Centurion, and Meteor.  Of their active membership, only Peregryn and
Geode remained on Venus...the former because he could not leave, the latter
because she had reasons to avoid scrutiny.  While not a member of ASH, the
divination sage Daniel Tang sat with them, next to Poniente.
     Peregryn was represented at the front table, however, with an enchanted
tablet computer propped up next to Solar Max.
     Gerhard Hesse rounded out the front table, representing STRAFE, and his
agents mostly clustered around either the ASH group or the EUROPA group
depending on their personal preferences and relationships.  Mostly-reformed
paraganger Roger "Boom" Langridge sat next to STRAFE demolitions expert Greg
Sellack, both in a cluster that included Essay and some other techie STRAFE
agents.  Significantly absent from the STRAFE delegation was agent Noire, who
had been sent back to Venus after it had been determined her shadowmeld power
was more hazard to herself than asset to the mission.
     With one notable exception, the remaining people in attendance tended to
sit alone, well away from the two main groups.  TerraStar and Sadi Pasteur
might technically both have connections to Khadam, but had no reason to trust
or like each other, and sat quite distant from each other.  Delta Rose, who
had been invited to this meeting for purely informational purposes, likewise
sat alone.  The exception was Simon Smith, who was between Poniente and
Essay.  He was as much on parole as Langridge, although everyone knew he
could leave without difficulty if he chose to.
     Arc stepped to the podium.  As the "home field captain," the other
groups had agreed to defer to her in matters of protocol.  
     "It would be nice to say that you're all gathered here for a mission
briefing, but unfortunately we aren't quite that far yet.  We have some ideas
that seem more likely to work than our previous attempts, but it's time to
see if anyone is inspired by hearing our plan to come up with something
better.  Or at least find any holes we're missing."  
     If you'd told Claire Auger in 2022 that one day she'd be representing
the EU on the world stage like this, she'd probably have had a mild nervous
meltdown.  She was the muscle.  But when the nominal brains of EUROPA had
been killed or otherwise taken out of action, she'd stepped up.  Now she
barely gave it a moment's thought.  Arc was the leader, so she led.
     "Thanks to a semi-anonymous tip, we re-examined our assumptions.
Looking at the timeline, Lady Sable was clearly laying groundwork for action
in Berlin months before the arrival of the extradimensional deathgod whose
power she seems to be using.  Whatever her real plan is, the deathgod's
arrival was a very helpful coincidence, but she was already in motion on
something.  And that something is almost definitely apotheosis, given her
past activity and known obsession with Lord Ebon.  Why Berlin?  During the
brief period the CSV's 'Worldnet' was active using the remnants of the Berlin
Wall as a focus, that certainly would have been a good reason, but it was
utterly destroyed in the wake of the World Serpent crisis.  Another
possibility that leapt to mind was the Nazi mystic treasure hunt of the
1900s, but...well, Peregryn, if you will?" she stepped over and moved the
tablet to the top of the podium.
     "Thank you.  While the phrase 'common knowledge' may not really be
appropriate in a field of study containing only a few score serious scholars,
nonetheless it was common knowledge that none of the powerful magical
artifacts looted by the Nazis during the 1930s and 1940s remained in Berlin.
Those which hadn't been destroyed during the waning days of the war were
themselves looted by the allied powers, ending up in vaults in a number of
different countries.  Nonetheless, when I was traveling the world seeking
forgotten artifacts and lore several years ago, I did visit Berlin just in
case something had been missed.  Nothing tripped my alarms.  And yes, I did
pay special attention to possible Nyx artifacts hidden away in dark corners,
due to her historical involvement with the Thule Society.  To the extent any
of her tokens remained in the world, they had been in America, in the hands
of fifth columnists fought by the original Beacon.  I believe Monsieur
Pasteur has the honor of picking up the next portion of this briefing?"
     Arc nodded, then motioned for the Khadamite mage's microphone to be
turned on.
     "Thank you.  This ties in to the research I had been doing on primal
gods earlier," Pasteur said with not a small hint of pride.  "Once the word
came down to concentrate on Berlin, I realized I'd seen a reference to an
exhibit of 'safe' artifacts on display, those related to gods that had
neither been involved in the Twentieth Century nor who had significant
cultural weight.  Obscure gods, mostly victims of syncretism, whose
portfolios had been taken over by more powerful gods and largely lost their
independent existence.  But I suppose from Ms. Auger's impatient glare that I
should get to the point.  Hemera.  Very obscure goddess of the dawn, and as
far as merely linear and causal archaeology can tell, what worshippers she
had were absorbed by Eos.  In some tellings, she is the daughter of Nyx, in
others the sister..."
     "Forget it, Jake.  It's Chinatown," Simon Smith interjected quietly, yet
somehow everyone heard.
     "...um, yes," Pasteur was momentarily flustered.  "Divine family trees
tend to be rather tangled, as befits their nonlinear nature and some of the
damage done to history by their struggles.  But getting back to the point,
some of Hemera's ritual items are located in the Altes Museum on the
Museumsinsel.  Ah, the Old Museum on Museum Island for the Americans," he
sneered.  "It might have attracted Sable's attention, if she could set the
sisters' powers against each other and then leverage it into stealing part of
each's aspect to carve out her own space as a new primal god.  My theory is
that she might seek to embody the idea of 'darkest before the dawn' in some
fashion, and the power of a deathgod could certainly feed into that."
     "Based on that," Justice interrupted, "we looked into some active
artifact smuggling cases and found several suspected shipments into Berlin
over the past several months that could have also been Hemeran items."
     "They INCLUDED," Pasteur took back the spotlight, "a rather interesting
item from our perspective.  A large bronze doorway, said to be modeled after
the one through which Nyx and Hemera passed each other each morning.  So,
there's our way in.  Lady Sable brought a door inside and we just need to
find a way to go through it," he finished smugly.
     "Thank you," Arc managed to keep her tone level.  "Since you're well
versed in going places magically, Mr. Smith, do you have any ideas on how we
can exploit this information?"
     "I do," he stood, although he made no motion to walk to the front.  As
before, he needed no microphone in order to be heard.  "Since Sadi made his
findings known to me, I've been considering a few other little bits of trivia
that came to me over the years, particularly in my past life.  A little
research since then has confirmed it.  Hemera has a brother and/or consort
named Aether...yes, as in luminiferous.  I think he might have had some small
hand in helping Beacon face down Nyx's worshippers, so this whole convoluted
little family of primals seems to be part of current events in some fashion.
I believe we can fashion our own bronze doorway and then the current Beacon
can power it so that we can pass through to the other side.  Unfortunately,
the door can only be held open during the brief period of time that is dawn,
that's the price of using this mystic resonance." 
     "Something tells me that this will be an all or nothing strike anyway,"
Arc replied.  "That solves getting in, and we'll work out the details how who
goes in what order as the breach team and followup later.  Terrastar, you
think you can do something about Sable once we get in?"
     An uncomfortable hush fell over the room.  Absolutely no one was pleased
at the idea of Polla Hectrix having the fate of the world in her hands, given
her avowed goal of conquering it.
     She smiled in a way that was meant to be reassuring but really really
wasn't.  "Oh, I've been teaching Poniente as well.  I know you don't trust
me, and frankly I don't trust any plan with too many single points of failure
to it.  Backup, backup, backup.  My time connected to Heraclius gave me quite
a lot of opportunity to examine the shackles that could bind a mortal soul to
a semi-divine one, and I thought of several ways to sever that bond.
Unfortunately, all of those planned rather required being on the outside of
the bond, so thank you for getting me out.  But if Poniente or I can get
close enough to Lady Sable, we should be able to free the deathgod.  We each
have our own way of doing so, in case one fails the other might succeed."
     "And we're fairly confident the deathgod wants to be free, based on
information from M'emba," Poniente added, anticipating the objection.  "Yes,
we have no idea what to do with the freed deathgod, but worst case scenario
it runs away and is a problem for later.  Best case, it decides to wreak
horrible vengeance on Lady Sable and saves us some trouble.  Most likely,
she's drained it too much for it to be a real factor one way or another right
away.  It will probably absorb the dome into itself, if it can, to recoup
some of its losses.  Assuming it operates under anything resembling human
logic, which admittedly is by no means guaranteed."
     "So, that's our outline," Arc's eyes swept the room.  "Magic door to get
into Berlin.  Find Sable if she's not already next to the door.  Free the
deathgod, overwhelm Sable with as much force as we can bring to bear, not
necessarily in that order.  Gonna need some work on the breach team, in case
she's right on top of the door with all of her most trusted minions, but this
seems to be the best shot we'll get.  Any thoughts?"
     "I have one," Lightfoot raised his hand, then put it down somewhat
abashedly.  "Well, two, but since one of them is to say I got the Chinatown
reference, only one good one.  And it's more of a question, of Mr. Smith.  Is
there a range limit on the gate you're thinking of?"
     Smith pondered for a moment.  "Not really.  It uses magical resonance,
it could have the other end on Santarus Prime and work just as well."
     "Then why not put the gate on Venus?" Lightfoot asked.  "Dawn there
takes a really long time.  And I could take everyone there while the gate is
built onboard the ship."
     "That...Howard?" Essay frowned in concentration.  "Would that work?  No
problems with Inanna objecting?"
     Howard Henderson Jr., aka Peregryn, shook his head.  "Inanna wouldn't
object, but remember where dawn is right now.  Almost no land mass at all on
the terminator, meaning it's Leviathan's territory.  And what little bit of
the northern continent isn't inside the Venusian 'arctic circle' is currently
never seeing the Sun rise all the way above the horizon.  It *might* still
work, but I would rather not risk failure on a technicality that it's never
dawn if the Sun is never fully up."
     "Ah, I have an idea," came a voice from the EUROPA cluster.
     "Yes, Agent...Rivera?" Arc squinted to make out his ID tag.
     "I trained at the Vikna facility, I remember this time of year the Sun
does make it all the way up, but it takes quite a while that close to the
Arctic Circle," Agent Rivera offered.  "Plus, we already have facilities
there, and if the battle spills back out the gate the wrong way it's easier
to contain than doing it just outside Berlin."
     "Sounds like our next stop is Norway," Solar Max raised an eyebrow.
"Dress warm."

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[January 23, 2027 - Vikna, Norway]

     Quite warm and comfortable in full "God Armor," Solar Max held onto a
thick armored cable that ended in an almost comically small box.  Scorch, in
similar armor, stood next to him, and together they were as wide as the
doorway inscribed on the hangar wall in mystic symbols.  It had been drawn
that size specifically to accomodate the two as the spearhead of the breach
team, although it was unlikely the doorway at the other end would be that
big.  Hopefully any complications due to the size difference would be
absorbed by the armor rather than by the men inside.  A handful of powerful
and combat-ready heroes were in the hangar, along with several mages and the
green photonic hero Beacon.  The rest of the combined forces of ASH and
EUROPA were still in Berlin, in case something happened at that end in the
     "Once Beacon and the mages fire up the spell, assuming it works, we
won't have much time before Lady Sable's onto us.  She's probably not at the
door herself since dawn was two hours ago in Berlin, but there's no way she's
going to be unaware of the door any time of day or night.  And the fact we're
all still here means that her plans for the door didn't involve dawn TODAY,"
Solar Max sumamrized.  Everyone had been in on the planning, but it had been
a rapid process and review couldn't hurt.
     "Once I'm through and we've dealt with any immediate resistance, I'll
drop the comm repeater," he held up the end of the cable, "which will
hopefully give us a secure link through everyone's regular comms.  We all
have talismen that should aid in mystic communication if the repeater doesn't
work, but there's a good chance that anything that makes tech fail in this
case will also kill magic communications.  That's why the second wave is the
brute squad."
     Of the three, only Centurion really looked the part.  Contact was
muscular enough, but most of his strength was telekinetic reinforcement.  And
next to even him, Tytanika was positively elfin by comparison, even though
the Polish heroine was stronger than Contact.  Normally all three would be
first, but sun-like energy powers seemed more valuable in this case, and
fortunately Solar Max and Scorch had powerful suits of supertech armor
     "And if all comms are shot, this brute can establish at least local
links telepathically," Contact smirked.
     "Exactly.  Assuming some level of, ah, contact is retained, Arc has
overwatch and will determine who the third team should be.  Default, though,
is the speedsters plus Terrastar in as our first mystic asset, since she's
tough enough to handle anything that might arrive in the way of
reinforcements, and Poniente is a bit less tank-like."
     "And here I thought I was a graceful flower of femininity," Terrastar
smiled sweetly, holding her ultradense mace as if it were a bouquet.
     "But that's ultimately Arc's call," Solar Max added, leaving unspoken
that they'd all be a lot more comfortable with Poniente than with the
extradimensional conqueror's daughter.  Terrastar's motives might align with
those of ASH and EUROPA for now, but she had made no secret that she was
helping save the world so that she could rule it later.
     No one wanted Pasteur or Smith to go through the portal.  In particular,
Pasteur himself had no desire to go through it.  It wasn't that he mistrusted
his own work on the gate, he just was very squishy by comparison to even
     "Fury and Breaker will stay on this side, ready to push back anything
shady that tries coming through from their end," Solar Max finished, nodding
to the two women.  Between Breaker's telekinesis and Fury's force bolts, very
little on or off Earth could make it through the door if they didn't permit
it.  And certainly not quickly enough to prevent the mages left behind from
destroying the doorway.
     "No plan survives contact with the enemy," Arc reminded the group,
"that's why they're the enemy.  But stick to the plan as long as it looks
like it's working, because the only thing worse than a broken plan is to have
no plan at all."

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[January 23, 2027 - Berlin, Germany]

     "You have no idea how hard I'm biting my tongue right now, trying to not
invoke Murphy's Law," Scorch muttered.  No one was around to greet them, nor
had any conventional alarms gone off in any way that they could detect.
     The mystic portal had dumped him and Solar Max out inside of what had to
be a museum.  Probably the Altemuseum, or museum of history.  Specifically, a
storage area for inactive exhibits, although even after considering what got
knocked over by the arrival of two hulking armor suits, it looked like
someone had rearranged the room to make space around the doorway.
     "I'm still getting signal from outside," Solar Max ignored the comment.
Ignoring Scorch was something he'd gotten used to before the pyrokinetic had
finally gotten around to growing up.  
     "Five by five on this end," Arc replied.  "Send the second wave?"
     Motioning for Scorch to join him nearer the mundane door at the other
end of the room, Solar Max said, "Affirmative."
     As the three super-strong heroes emerged one at a time through the
Doorway of Hemera, Scorch considered just slagging the door as he'd suggested
during planning.  He sighed.  They were right, though.  It would be a last
resort, since if they just blew the door and retreated, Sable would find some
other path to godhood.  They needed to take this shot at defeating her and
freeing Berlin before too many people died to fuel her mad fantasies.
     "Can I attach the package now?" Scorch asked.
     There was a pause in which he guessed Solar Max was nodding, then
realizing that the oversized powersuit didn't convey that in the way his
normal armor did.  "Yes.  The comm link is secure, so set the deadman's
switch.  All they have to do is pull the cable out, and the artifact gets
introduced to the wonders of modern high explosives."  It would also happen
if the spell keeping the door open were detected and blocked, so it was
important to make the charge big enough to destroy the artifact but not so
big that it'd kill the breach team.
     "Museum security system is turned off, but we have the codes and can get
it running remotely to give us some idea what's going on," Arc reported.
     "Hold off a moment," Contact suggested.  "We're doing a scan for minds
nearby first...okay, not getting any pings, no one around to notice the
cameras turning on."  No one was bothered by Contact's use of the plural,
even though he'd integrated more fully with Paul Mahler's memories lately, he
still tended to think of Paul as a passenger in his head rather than as a set
of memories and what amounted to elaborate inner dialogue.
     "Sending TerraStar, Meteor, and Fury.  Outside security cameras show an
approaching enemy force," Arc warned.  
     "Remember," Solar Max added, "the minions might not be too tough, but
once Lady Sable herself shows up, it's going to be a short fight one way or
another.  Either one of our plans pans out, or she crushes us like bugs."

     The first wave had been a short fight too, Lightfoot thought as he tried
to hold down bile while he and Meteor scouted the grounds of the Museuminsel.
Fight wasn't really the right word.  It had been a slaughter.
     "Relax, heroes," Terrastar had said as she crushed the skull of one of
the attacking Vogue Ghouls with her mace, sending a shower of red and gray 
against a piece of outdoor sculpture.  "No souls in these, Sable has already
turned them into...zombies, I suppose you'd call them.  She must be running
low on power if she's starting to eat the souls of her followers, that's good
for us."  During that bit of exposition, she'd brutally splattered another
half dozen of the oncoming wave.  They all wore masks carved from a dark
wood, but those shattered far more easily than skulls.  "Or maybe these
displeased her somehow," she shrugged.
     Obviously, the masks were important, so Tom had tried removing one in
the hopes that it would free the victim, or at least let them die in a single
piece.  That...had been a mistake.  The masks were bonded to the skulls of
the wearers, but the bodies themselves were already decomposing, and a head
had come off in his hands.  And kept snarling after being removed.  He'd
tried other non-lethal methods in case the masks could be taken off safely
later, but the bodies kept getting back up and the only solution was zombie
movie rules.  It was a lot cooler when you were watching it on TV or in a
theater, and not getting pieces of what used to be people on your boots and
in your hair.
     "Looks like a second wave in my sector," he reported, not bothering to
slow down.  To anyone in hearing range, it would sound like he emitted a high
pitched chirp, but the comms were smart enough to slow down anything coming
from his end, so he wouldn't have to concentrate on making his legs fast and
his mouth not fast.
     He hoped this wouldn't be more mask zombies.

     "Ah, this should be easier on your stomachs," Terrastar called out as
the new forces came into view.  These were Sable's elite, the bitch couldn't
be too far behind now, Polla knew.  
     "Harder on my eyes, though," Scorch muttered, unleashing a gout of flame
at the nearest one, only to have it pass between the parts of its body.
     They wore masks similar to those of the cannon fodder, but it might be
more accurate to say that they WERE the masks now.  A collection of carved
wooden pieces floated in a rough approximation of a body, connected by
twisting tendrils of shadow.  Whoever these had been, whatever abilities made
them useful to Sable at one time, they were now shadow golems of some sort.
In fact...Terrastar paused to concentrate...yes, they actually had more than
one soul each.  Sable had torn the souls from the bodies of the "zombies" and
infused them into new shells, more powerful shells.
     No need to tell the heroes that, of course, although the wind witch was
watching from the rear echelon and might figure it out herself.
from everywhere and nowhere.  "YOU SAVE ME THE TROUBLE OF FETCHING YOU!"
     To their credit, the heroes that she had allied herself with didn't let
themselves be rattled or even distracted by Sable's attempt at "I'm the god"
preening.  Scorch had found the key to pouring enough flame at a shadow golem
to destroy the wooden pieces, without which the shadow simply flowed onto the
nearest other golem.  Centurion, Contact, and Tytanika knew better than to
risk grappling, but were mostly keeping the golems busy with hurled paving
blocks or benches.  Solar Max was trying to compress one of the golems into a
singularity, but it was not working as well as he'd hoped.  Meteor and
Lightfoot continued to act as scouts, because it would be very easy to sneak
up on the invading force in the unnatural darkness that had covered Berlin.
     All of that went through Terrastar's mind in an eyeblink.  She'd been
trained in small group tactics by the best her universe had to offer, and her
assessment of her allies amounted to, "adequate, at least for now."
     The form of Lady Sable...at least, the form she wished to project...
coalesced from shadows as a titanic and voluptuous woman in flowing gowns of
shadowy lace.  Nothing at all what the woman looked like underneath the
glamours, even allowing for the size, but Terrastar knew the value of
projecting a false impression and didn't begrudge the mage that bit of
     Terrastar knew she could end it now.  She could sense that mote of dark
power inside Sable, the stolen god that M'emba worshipped.  She knew how to
snuff it out.  After all, her universe had no gods, and it was because long
ago they had learned how to kill a god.  It was a very useful secret to have
in this world, although tipping her hand now would mark her as a target to
any other gods who might be watching.  It would also, more immediately, sour
a promising new ally on their partnership.  
     Terrastar had barely made the decision to let the mote of darkness live
when Sable came right at her.
     "Don't think I've forgotten Halloween!" the pretender goddess screamed
as she became a bolt of dark lightning that arced towards Terrastar.  "You're
a little too clever to let live!" the voice sizzled as the bolt struck the
stony shield Terrastar pulled out of the ground.
     This had been part of one of the tactical plans.  A few of the assembled
heroes had faced Lady Sable before, thwarting her first attempt (that they
knew about) at godhood.  While she might be putting on the airs of someone
above it all, Polla was fairly confident that Sable was still a petty bitch
underneath it all, and odds were good that she'd pick one of her previous
opponents to kill immediately.  Probably Terrastar, maybe Solar Max.  Others
possible, but less likely.
     "Now!" Solar Max shouted, pulling up huge chunks of pavement to
temporarily corral the shadow golems, a feat that would have been Terrastar's
responsiblity had anyone else been the target.  It wouldn't stop them for
more than a few seconds, but that was a few seconds during which everyone
else could focus on Lady Sable.
     Flames nearly as bright as the Sun seared into the mass of shadow that
was probing Terrastar's shields, both the stony ones and the mystic wards
she'd thrown up behind them.  Flash grenades delivered directly into the mass
by nearly invisble blue and white blurs.  Even a telepathic scream, although
how effective that was Terrastar couldn't say.  Sable might be self-trained
and sloppy, but the raw power of a stolen god can make up for a lot of flaws
in technique...if Sable didn't break off in a few seconds, Terrastar might
have to kill the mote just to stay alive.
     Fortunately, there was one more piece to the plan.  Batteromg a nigh-
demigod was unlikely to have much effect, but Lady Sable had been born a
human, and had been mostly human until very recently.  She still flinched at
the outpouring of violence.
     Total invulnerability doesn't help if your brain screams at you that
you're a soft fleshy bag of meat and you're gonna die.
     A sudden gust of wind swept in from the west.  It wasn't strong enough
to knock anyone over, but it was merely a harbinger of one god being invoked
to free another.
     The mote of darkness was blown from inside Lady Sable like one might
blow a crumb off a table.  Gently, or so it seemed, for all that it was the
force of a spirit of the wind itself being applied.  Poniente was asking much
of her patron, and no doubt would be long in paying off the debt.  That's how
magic worked when you hadn't gotten around to killing your gods.
     The eastern sky opened as if the dome of darkness had been smashed
outwards by a giant fist.
     Sunlight streamed in from the midmorning Sun, and if none of it actually
touched Sable, it was clear that she was in pain.
     "NOOOOOOOOOoooooo...!" her cry started as booming and godlike and
quickly dropped into a mortal whine.
     The shadow golems collapsed as their shadows flowed into the rapidly
shrinking aspirant god.  Sable was spread too thin over the entire city and
was desperately trying to pull in and repair her dome, return night to at
least her immediate vicinity, but there just wasn't enough power left without
the mote of darkness for her to succeed.
     Terrastar backed up a step, letting the stony shield crumble but
strengthening her wards.

     Solar Max watched the eastern faces of the surrounding buildings flare
with sudden sunlight as Lady Sable shrank and screamed.
     "This is where all the plans say to improvise, guys!" he warned over the
comms.  All the mages agreed that once the stolen god essence was removed,
Sable wouldn't be able to keep it together.  Where they disagreed was on how
dangerous she'd be if she managed to drop everything and put her remaining
power into killing the meddling mortals who dared rob her of her destiny.
     He let the walls he'd been holding up fall, as the monsters inside had
been absorbed into their creator.  Would that energy be enough for a
retribution strike, or was Sable pouring water into a bucket with no bottom
right now?
     The dome was gone now.  He felt a chill as if Sable was trying to do
something to him...but maybe it was just he expected something?
     Sable was now purely human again, the same pathetic figure he'd seen
last Halloween, her self-image so poor that she didn't benefit from the usual
"glam up" that powerful supernaturals tended to get.
     A normal breeze was blowing now, as fresh air mixed into the stagnant
air of Berlin for the first time in days.  He noticed that his onboard comm
feed was no longer just what was being piped in through Hemera's door, but
instead the full array of signals that were part of modern life.
     Lady Sable collapsed in a heap, her scream reduced to a wheeze.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[January 25, 2027 - Berlin, Germany]

     At first glance, it hardly seemed like anything had happened.  Berlin
still stood, aside from a ring of rubble where EUROPA and ASH had fought the
slow expansion of the now-vanished dome.  Some damage had been done to the
museum grounds, of course, and perhaps slightly more random vandalization
here and there than the prosperous city normally saw.
     But so little was moving.  The worst of the traffic snarls caused by
failure of systems and by panic had been cleared, and relief supplies were
moving about the city, but it would still be days if not weeks before
anything resembling normal would resume.  Damage to bridges and roads meant
the flow of traffic in and out was restricted.  The worst medical cases had
been flown out, either by helicopter or by superhero, and many of those fit
to do so had simply walked out.  Even with all the troops assembled around
the dome, there was no practical way to keep people from leaving if they had
done nothing provably wrong.
     As for the obvious criminals...most of the Vogue Ghouls who had
willingly followed Lady Sable as her enforcers had been drained of their life
energies to create the shadow golems.  Some had been caught alive, and no
doubt a few had escaped both that fate and the authorities, but they would
find little help from other gangs.  Crime as a fashion lifestyle did not
generally extend to being okay with mass murder on the scale Sable had
attempted, and any cachet Sable's followers might have once enjoyed had
probably soured.
     "What a gods-damned mess," Solar Max swore.  He'd shed the heavy duty
outer armor he wore for the assault, but was still in his regular suit, with
helmet on.  A few Vogue Ghoul holdouts had wanted a fight, and he had no
intention of making it easy.  
     If his expression was unreadable behind the modified alien helmet, his
tone was all too clear.
     Arc nodded.  "On the bright side, Sable was fueling her magic more with
the fear of death than actual death, so most of the populace survived.  She
wanted to get everyone to the brink of death, the 'darkest before the dawn'
as it were, before pulling the trigger.  The few collaborators we've found
thought that it was going to be happening some time in the next week."
     Solar Max glanced at his helmet's heads-up display.  Estimated 99%
survival rate.  "Yeah, *only* one percent dead.  When people play at being
gods, that's a low body count.  And this got resolved before the starvation
got really bad, although we'll probably see a few tens of thousands of people
we pulled out not make it because the Vogue Ghouls decided they weren't worth
a ration.  Most of the dead were among hospital patients and those with
medical needs that couldn't be met in a sealed city.  A few victims of
violence, both from resisting the new order and just people being horrible in
bad situations, some suicides.  Oh, and they tell me the suicides aren't done
yet, despite everyone's best efforts.  PTSD is *rough*."
     Arc stayed silent.  She knew her Combine counterpart was speaking from
experience.  Rumor was that some of the tragedies visited on the Academy of
Super-Heroes had been planned by their own government, a way of toughening
them up and weeding out the ones who couldn't cut it.  They probably had
their own rumors about EUROPA, though.
     Solar Max paused, clearly getting a message over his helmet comm.
"Well, here's some news from the other day I'm finally cleared to share with
you, mainly because we don't know anything else about what happened...." 

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[January 23, 2027 - Near Providence, Rhode Island Sector]

     M'emba sat in her room, alone save for the surveillance equipment that
she knew was there, but did not bother to disable.  It was the dark hour of
the night, when death was at its strongest, and when she habitually chose to
meditate.  That much was expected, it would arouse no suspicion from her
     That it was coincidentally the time she expected any plan against Lady
Sable would take place?  How convenient, yes.
     She felt a chill wind blow, despite the warmth of the room and the lack
of any windows.
     She held out her hands and cupped them as the tiniest spark of darkness
settled into her palms.  The dying ember of death itself, of her banished and
forgotten god.  A distant echo of his mighty voice roared in her mind's ear
as she dissolved into the darkness and was gone.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[January 25, 2027 - Berlin, Germany]

     "Well, that's not roo surprising, if sinister in the details," Arc
shrugged.  "Terrastar and Mr. Smith vanished in the aftermath of the battle,
it makes sense that M'emba would do so as well.  But literally vanishing from
under surveillance suggests some powers she hadn't revealed yet."
     "Or hadn't HAD," Solar Max's tone suggested a scowl.  "Poniente and
Peregryn agree that the spark of godpower that Sable was using was merely
freed, not destroyed.  Three guesses where it would go, and the first two
don't count, as my grandpa used to say."
     "If we're very lucky, she's not our problem anymore, and has gone
looking into other realities for other survivors of her cult," Arc proposed.
"But we're probably not that lucky.  At least I seriously doubt she'd ally
with Sable or Nyx, but Terrastar or Smith are another matter."
     "And then there's Sadi."
     "He's still around, though," Arc furrowed her brow.
     "Yeah, that's the problem."

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[January 25, 2027 - Prison Omega, location classified]

     It was hard to think.

     She felt...drunk?  High?  No, sedated.  The woman calling herself Lady
Sable had abused quite a few mind-altering chemicals in her quest for power,
and while she'd been clean for years now, the fuzz laying over her brain was
a familiar one.

     The room was brightly lit, but she couldn't focus enough to tell if it
was daylight or artificial.  She could still feel the magic within herself, a
bruised and guttering spark suffering from the abuse of her defeat, but she
couldn't focus enough to use it.

     "Prison," she slurred.  This time there'd been no last second escape
from the heroes to tried to keep her from godhood.  Maybe she'd get a trial,
maybe not.  There weren't a lot of strong Anchors around anymore, and they
couldn't very well put her on trial in this drugged haze, this wasn't the

     Or was it?  Jurisdictional issues were hazy enough without the brain
cotton, maybe it was decided to give her over to the more repressive Combine
government, throw her in the Cavity, and never let her out?

     "My laaaadeee Nish...Nik...Nyx," she stumbled to form the words.
"Please aid your ssservannn..." she nearly passed out from the effort.

     There was only silence and light.  Such bright light.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[January 26, 2027 - Berlin, Germany]

     "It's coming up," Gerd sighed as he and Anna looked out their apartment
window.  The sky was lightening, promising a dawn, just like the day before,
and the day before that.  
     "I don't think I can take that for granted, not anymore," Anna
shivered.  "That night felt like it went on for years."
     Gerd nodded and hugged his wife closer.  Physically, they were okay.  A
few days of tight diets hadn't been enough to seriously impact them.
Financially, they'd be okay...almost no one was working in Berlin right now
other than disaster relief (which Gerd and Anna both did on a volunteer basis
now that they'd been medically cleared), but between UBI and national funds
to cover superhuman-related incidents, there wouldn't be any real pinch.
     But psychologically?  That would take more than a few dawns.
     "Maybe once everything settles down, we should move somewhere else,"
Gerd suggested.
     "Somewhere SUNNY," Anna emphasized, and they shared a chuckle.
     The tops of nearby buildings lit up with the Sun's rays, and the
Karstens just watched the light creep down until the Sun itself became
visible over the urban horizon....


Author's Notes:

     First, a few quick reference notes.  
     Since writing the first scene of this issue, I started playing Final
Fantasy XIV.  It is purely coincidence that I have characters talking about
"primal gods," given that I decided on the term several years ago when I knew
functionally nothing about Final Fantasy XIV (and not much about any Final
     M'emba and her "mote" of a banished god come from City of Heroes, as
indicated back in ASH #119.  City of Heroes has been gone for longer now than
it was up, although the "pirate servers" have reportedly been fairly active
for the last few years.  As a City of Titans dev, I can't really go on those
for both legal and appearances reasons.

     Anyway...oy, that was a long arc to write.  I started it three jobs and
almost a decade ago.  Why did it take so long?  Some of it was other
projects.  Developing course materials every time I switched schools.
Working on the City of Titans project.  Just not having the desire to write
ANYTHING because of everything else going on at the time.
     A big part of it, though, was that I didn't feel obliged to get it out
the door so that the storyline could move on.  With no one else writing ASH
universe stories that depended on the timeline advancing (Pi, Singer, and
Rossi all moved on to professional gigs, and Burton's always been on his own
side story timeline), I didn't have that "I'm being a problem for others"
pressure to get it done.
     I didn't completely stop writing ASH stuff in the meantime, but I would
often write a Coherent Super Stories side piece rather than working on City
of Night.  And I also did completely disconnected fiction, the "School"
stories, and other bits and pieces here and there.
     At least I finished this arc before January 2027 realtime. 

     Will there be an ASH #126?  I wouldn't rule it out, but I have no plans
for the next arc, and clearly I'm doing more of my writing in short and
non-serial pieces lately.  Arc-format stories might have to wait until I
get another collaborator who is interested in that sort of thing, or I get a
Burning Need to write an arc.
     Still, 125 installments of serial fiction, plus side stories,
crossovers, art, and guidebook files over the course of 27 years or so is
pretty impressive as a hobby.


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

     http://ash.wikidot.com/ is the official ASH Wiki, focusing on the Fourth
Heroic Age, but containing some information about other Ages.


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