ASH: Shadow Girls #4 - Into The Underworld

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Sun Jan 2 19:35:44 PST 2022

     [The cover shows the four magical girls walking down a dimly lit 
      tunnel with harsh shadows tinged with their colors.]

 .|, COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS             An ASH Universe Story
 '|`   SHADOW GIRLS      #4 - Into The Underworld
			 copyright 2022 by Dave Van Domelen

[April 30, 2027 - West Village]

     Tammy retrieved a backpack from the shadows of the rooftop where the
four "magical girls" were meeting their potential mentor, and withdrew a
laptop computer from it.  "I copied all of the files directly to this
computer, so your passcode should unlock the extra information," she held the
laptop out to Maddie.
     Maddie started to take it, then paused.  "You do realize that I won't
just unlock the new information, I'll have access to everything Professor
Shade gave to each of you?  If I don't already have enough to figure out all
of your secret identities...other than Julie, who I already know...this will
clinch it.  Do you trust me enough?"
     "I am SO bad at secret identities," Tetra Red, aka Julie Li sighed,
resting her face in her hands.
     "As you say, you likely already could figure it out if you wanted to,"
Tammy shrugged.  "There are not that many high school students in Manhattan,
and since ONE of us started dyeing her hair pink when out of costume it
wouldn't even take that long," she gave Icosa-Pink the side-eye.
     "But when the shadows cover my hair it's a darker pink," she rebutted. 
     Octa-Green just rolled her eyes.  "Go ahead.  Shade already knows who we
are, so it's only a matter of time.  He might get impatient and tell you
     The other two nodded, and Maddie took the laptop.  
     "Wow, Julie wasn't kidding about getting a junker old laptop.  I'm
surprised it still turns on," Maddie waited for it to boot up.
     "Hey, I don't remember any Greek gods named Inanna.  At least, none in
my TwenCen history class," Julie noted, thinking back on what Maddie had told
them was on the hardcopy letter she got earlier that night.  
     "She's not Greek," Tammy replied as the laptop slooooowly booted up.
"Mesopotamian.  Syncretic with Ishtar, although it is unknown if she was a
separate entity or not...even when the gods were on television in the 90s,
they generally declined to clarify such matters.  That does raise the
question of why she'd use Platonic solids, although I suppose if the concept
of Forms that Plato espoused is true, the gods would be aware of it as well.
And that's also assuming Plato himself didn't appropriate the idea from a
still older and uncredited Babylonian philosopher whose name has been lost to
     "Thanks, I had no idea, myself," Maddie admitted.  "Inanna definitely
didn't mess with New York, so I never really had reason to learn about her.
I'll go ahead and check online later, though.  Ah, finally, it's on.  Lemme
just try typing MORNING STARS into the command line...since none of you
actually knew about hidden folders there can't have been an obvious login or
anything.  Clicking on Julie's folder first...ah, I guess the 'MENTOR' folder
wasn't there before, right?"
     Tetra-Red nodded.  
     "Okay, I'm going to copy everything onto this," Maddie pulled a data
dongle out of her pocket, "and take the time to read it over the weekend
after I run it through every virus check and safety scan I can find.  You'll
want to read the extra files too, and we can compare notes on Monday after
school.  I don't want to trust this thing's battery to not die in the middle
of things tonight, and it's too cold to want to type much anyway."
     "So, that's it?" Octa-Green frowned.  
     "Well, it looks like I'm going to be helping you four out, even if I'm
not willing to be the mentor Professor Shade wants...that depends on what he
has to say in these files," she inserted the dongle and dragged the folders
onto its icon.  "And I think I'm ready to trust you four with some of my
secrets, but I need some time to clean up...there's secrets that aren't mine
alone to give up, and I need to sanitize some data and do a little light
housecleaning before I let you see it.  Oh, and I should talk to one of those
people whose secrets are involved, since they're still available.  Yeesh, it
even copies slowly.  Anyway, at the very least I should have something to
help you with the secret ID thing come Monday, even if I decide to decline
the whole mentor gig."

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[May 2, 2027 - Financial District]

     The World Trade Center "Twin Towers" rose like ghosts above Manhattan,
even after many of the older skyscrapers had been deliberately deconstructed
to keep them from collapsing from neglect.  There simply wasn't the need for
hundred story towers in modern New York City, and the Twin Towers were an
echo of the dead past.  Even now, they were mostly empty, despite being a
major MetaPsych research center...their dark and bloody history meant no one
else even wanted them, but no one dared let them collapse either.  So they
got regular maintenance, even the parts no one used.  No one *wanted* to use
them, rightly considering the buildings haunted after Odin packed them with
the corpses of his believers in 1998.  The fact that many MetaPsych employees
did live there just confirmed the popular opinion that MetaPsych was a bunch
of weirdos.
     The haunted reputation also made them useful places to hide things.  And
people.  And things that might be people.
     "Any progress on the babysitting?" Maddie asked as Jessa Dumont engaged
the privacy screens on her office, psionic and otherwise.  
     The former Hellhound collaborator shook her head.  "Whatever the Santari
did to force-grow that Anchor clone that Marx bought gave it the poor neural
plasticity of an adult as well.  The data I transferred is still in there,
but it's not really making any connections.  I suspect that Santari don't
even bother trying to make thinking clones this way, they just slap in
computer brains to run the higher processes.  The autonomous stuff is still
working, he breathes on his own."
     Maddie nodded.  Devlin Marx, once a powerful and wealthy man, one of the
strongest of the reality-reinforcing Anchors, had been dying, and gambled
everything on a plan to transfer his brain into a cloned body.  It hadn't
worked, but in the process Jessa had attracted way more official attention
than anyone in the Hellhound troika was comfortable with.  On the plus side,
the former manager of a free clinic was now highly placed in MetaPsych, the
premiere telepathic research and training organization, so she had access to
a great many more resources.  On the minus side, that came with
accountability and an inability to just vanish every so often to beat up
paragangers.  Combined with Beth Willot getting more duties as a NAC
Marshall, only Maddie had been available to run the Hellhound identity, and
she had never really been the main person in the suit.
     Well, *a* suit.  The three women were similar in build, but there were
three suits, each padded and armored to bring them closer to each other in
appearance.  Three suit designs, that is, and lots of backups and spare
parts.  Maddie's main job was armorer, Beth was the usual ass-kicker, and
Jessa was intel and later on funnelled more money secretly into the accounts
Maddie had inherited from her grandfather.
     "I don't need telepathy to know you didn't ask to see me on a Sunday
just to check up on the baby, though," Jessa frowned.  "Did that woman
approach you again, about restarting Hellhound?"
     Maddie shook her head.  "No, although I wouldn't rule out the same
person being behind that and my current issue.  I don't suppose you've
noticed that Manhattan has developed a case of Magical Girls?"
     Jessa blinked.  "Like in the old Japanese cartoons?  No, I can't say I
have, but I've mostly been focusing on the current psychic resonance project
here.  The paragangs have been quiet enough that I haven't been checking in
as much as maybe I should have been?"
     "Someone claiming to be the Third Age hero Professor Shade has been
setting up high school girls with magical gems and pointing them at Bathory." 
     "How many dead so far?" Jessa looked vaguely horrified.
     "None, thank GOD," Maddie sighed.  "They had just enough sense to train
up first, and Shade manipulated them into meeting me before they could go off
half-cocked.  Jessa, Shade knows I was part of Hellhound, although he's being
clever about hinting at it.  And I think he knows about grandpa, although if
he really is Professor Shade there was probably a teamup or two.  He got some
Snow Leopards to go after me search of a magic black opal...oh, he didn't
admit to it, but that was a clear setup.  While they were keeping me and one
of the magical girls distracted, he dropped off a package in my *highly
secure* apartment."
     Maddie opened up her messenger bag, which to all but the most invasive
scans would have not revealed anything unusual, and pulled out two objects
that would not have shown up on scans.  One was a data chip, of a more modern
and secure design than the consumer dongles, and the other was a large
pendant with five empty sockets.
     "Professor Shade provided this data to the girls, including hidden
folders unlocked with a passcode he gave me.  I've checked all of this and
it's as clean as I can confirm, but check it yourself before trusting it to
anything networked.  I'm mostly curious if there seem to be any potentially
malicious omissions or false data.  Like I said, I think Shade wants them
going after Bathory, and even if he's who he says he is I don't entirely
trust his motives.  He might have left out something important."
     "I'll get on that," Jessa took the chip.  "And the jewelry?"
     "Supposedly held the gems that empowered the girls.  Shade's letter
claimed it was an artifact of the goddess Inanna, and that comes back to your
psychic resonance project.  Could you run this past your experts and see if
it pings on whatever standards you have for deific power?"
     "Luckily for you, our sensitives live in the towers, I'm sure I can find
one willing to take a read on this while I check the data out.  If you want
to hang out in the lobby or even the memorial park for an hour or so, I can
get you at least a preliminary take on this all."
     "Thanks.  One more thing, in case you weren't already planning on it...
see if you can find out if anyone reported Professor Shade dead?  He was a
Boston hero, but he did come to New York occasionally, and there might be at
least some mention.  My grandfather's files did have a couple of entries, but
the most recent was in 1997," Maddie zipped up her bag.

     While the Twin Towers were the famous part of the World Trade Center,
there were several other shorter buildings.  Well, there had been, a
generation ago.  While the two main towers were no longer packed with
corpses, and most of those had been reburied on Hart Island, the other
buildings had largely been abandoned and eventually deconstructed.  Where
Seven World Trade Center had once stood was now a memorial park dedicated to
the victims of the Ride of the Valkyries.  Many names were engraved in a wall
similar to that of the Vietnam War Memorial, but too many of the dead were
unknown and unclaimed, and for all their horrific numbers they were merely a
tiny fraction of all those the gods took on July 6, 1998.  The world had
barely had time to realize what had happened in New York when that news was
overtaken by the vanishing of two thirds of the human race, including
everyone with paranormal powers.
     Still, it was a peaceful place, and had never been touched by paragang
violence even at the worst of the early 20s.  It wasn't unusual for someone
to spend part of a Sunday afternoon contemplating the dead, so Maddie didn't
stand out as she waited.
     --Good news, I suppose,-- Jessa's telepathic voice echoed in Maddie's
head.  Months of practice during the Hellhound days meant no outside observer
would have realized she was getting a message.  --Near as I can tell, your
data is all good.  More thorough in places than I have, but nothing looks
like it was put there maliciously.  I'm a little suspicious about how anyone
could have better data than mine, but I'm professionally suspicious as a
matter of course.--
     ++And the necklace?++ Maddie thought back.
     --It's called a pectoral, according to the para-archaeologist I showed
it to.  It definitely has feminine divine-type 'vibes' he said, but since
Inanna was never involved in the Godmarket, there's nothing for him to
compare it to.  She did have a pectoral as part of her known items of power
in the surviving myths, at any rate.  He says that if it wasn't Inanna, it
also wasn't any god whose artifacts he's had a chance to study...although
admittedly most of our stuff is Aesir and Vanir.  On a purely mundane
archaeological level, it doesn't seem to be Mesopotamian, but a lot of divine
artifacts don't resemble anything historical in particular.  Godly art wasn't
always tied to the art of their mortal worshippers.--
     ++And I take it he didn't freak out and treat it like it was
     --Right.  So whatever it is, it's not strongly linked to any god or
goddess right now.  Residual power, but you're not going to call down Berlin
part two by using this or the gems that were pried out of it.  Probably.  But
getting one of the girls to come in for a resonance checkup would take a lot
more convincing on all sides.  Oh, and nothing on Shade one way or another.
He stayed in the shadows, pun intended, and no one even knew for sure if he
had powers or not.  If he had powers, he obviously wouldn't still be around,
but we don't have enough data to tell if his claims of being artifact
empowered would actually protect someone from being swept up in the great
     ++Okay, thanks.  Should I come back in for the...pectoral?++
     Maddie got the impression of a shaking head.  --I'll have a courier drop
it at dead drop fifteen, so you don't have to risk suspicion coming inside
again.  Once is touristy, twice is weird.-- 
     ++Yeah, I think I might be reactivating the network in general, so might
as well start making use of it again.++

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[May 3, 2027 - Chinatown]

     "See you next week, Mrs. Xu," Maddie gave her best Customer Service
Smile as the elderly woman left with her bag, leaving only one other person
in the store aside from Maddie.
     After a few seconds, Julie Li looked around a bit too obviously, then
approached the counter.  "Hi, Miss Chin.  We decided all coming in would draw
too much attention, but I'm enough of a regular."
     "Good, that's one less lesson you need," Maddie smiled, pulling a
package out from under the counter, then lifting the lid.  Inside were four
loops of dark colored stiff fabric, matching the shadows "worn" by the girls
when they called upon the power of the gems.  
     "Nice, but what are they?" Julie picked up the dark red one.
     "Put it on.  The clasp is that gecko foot stuff, you'll need to peel it
back," Maddie demonstrated with the dark pink one.
     Julie did so.  "Now that my voice?  This is a voice changer?"
     Maddie nodded.  "Might need some tweaking, the original goal was to
sound scary and inhuman, but I figured you wouldn't want that.  It will
defeat all but the highest end analysis, though, no one should recognize you
by voice if you're wearing them when you go out.  Just keep 'em rolled up in
your pocket or something until you need 'em, they don't turn invisible like
your gems." 
     "What the heck do you have these things for?  And is this ballistic
cloth or something?"  During that, Julie had taken off the choker and her
voice returned to normal.
     "I'll answer that tonight, someplace a little more secure.  There's an
address in the box too, meet me there after business hours."

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[May 3, 2027 - Nolita]

     "Why here?" Icosa-Pink asked.  "It's nowhere near Grocery Store, right?
And it looks like it's been closed since before I was born, like the rest of
this part of the neighborhood.  I mean, I've only lived in Little Italy for a
little while, but I'm pretty sure this part of Nolita hasn't gotten any
gentrification yet, yah?"
     The alley was poorly lit, and while not actually falling down, it
certainly didn't look like it had gotten more than the minimal attention
given to other uninhabited parts of the city.  
     "At least it's too close to the nicer parts of town to have squatters,"
Julie noted.  "Still kinda creepy, almost like someone wanted it to look
     Tammy cast a skeptical eye around the alley from where the four girls
hid in the shadows.  "I think you're right.  It looks a little too staged to
really be abandoned.  It looks like someone wants it to appear abandoned, and
also unwelcoming so that it stays abandoned."
     "Good eye," came a voice from behind the door the four were watching.
It opened slightly, and Maddie stuck her head out.  "Come on in, I don't like
to keep the city cameras spoofed for too long, someone's bound to notice even
in an artfully neglected part of town like this."
     The four quickly entered the dusty and seemingly abandoned storefront,
and Maddie shut the door.  "Through there," Maddie pointed at a dimly lit
curtain, then tossed a handful of dust and grit in the air behind her as she
followed, obscuring the footprints that had just been made.  
     Once they were all through, a sliding door covered the curtain from
their side, and the lights came up more fully.  It looked like the back room
of any number of small alleyway stores, if not as carefully dusty as the
     "Do you own this too?" Julie asked.
     "I own a lot of 'distressed' properties, although my name shows up on
none of the deeds.  Like I told you, I have some secrets of my own, and this
is just the tip of the iceberg," Maddie pressed a hidden switch and a section
of wall slid aside to reveal a ladder.  "In you go, I'll shut everything
properly and follow."
     "A secret base in the sewers?" Octa-Green wrinkled her nose.
     "No, although some disused sewers are part of the network.  There's a
LOT of abandoned tunnels under Manhattan, and not all of them ever appeared
on any blueprints.  I inherited a bunch of them, although there's no actual
legal claim I could make," Maddie said as the group started to descend.
"This is just the most convenient entry to where most of you live...sorry
about the commute, Tammy, I'll show you an exit not too far from your home
later, if you really want to walk all the way.  Unless you know how to ride a
     By now, everyone was in the tunnel, dimly lit by emergency-style lights
that had not been installed by any official city workers.
     "I suppose I could learn, especially if it looks like we might need to
deal with some 'ragers," Tammy shrugged.  "Are you saying that this tunnel
network is rideable?"
     "A lot of it always has been, and some of it got retrofitted a year or
so ago.  Come on," Maddie gestured, "this way.  It's a few blocks to the
     "How low does this all go?"
     "Honestly?  I'm not entirely sure.  My 'secret base' is about three
hundred meters below ground level, though.  That's a long ladder climb if the
power goes out, so I make sure the elevator's kept in good condition," Maddie
continued leading them past branching points, turning every so often.  "In
case you don't trust your memory, I'll give you all maps, although I'd prefer
if you memorized those as quickly as possible and destroyed the copies."
     "Okay, how the hell does a twenty-something store owner have her own
underground complex?" Octa-Green asked.
     "This is America!  Or was," Maddie shrugged.  "How does anyone get rich
anymore?  I inherited it.  Here's the elevator, everyone in.  You'll notice
it's big enough for a decent-sized motorcycle or three."
     Maddie pulled back the gate on the old-looking freight elevator, but
once they got in and she started it up, it moved far more quickly than any
TwenCen clunker had a right to.   "Don't put your hands outside the cage,
good way to lose a finger.  OSHA will never know about this place."
     "I don't recall your dad being rich," Julie frowned as the elevator sped
     "Oh, I didn't inherit this from him.  I got it directly from grandpa."
She opened the gate.  "The Black Opal."
     "Whoa.  Superhero retro!" Julie gasped.
     "Check out all the gear," Octa-Green cooed.  "Wait, some of this looks
like descriptions of..."
     Maddie interrupted her, picking up a demon-headed motorcycle helmet.
"Xueli Li, Tamica Sullivan, Dhriti Singh, and Olivia Stuart, allow me to
introduce the reason why Professor Shade thought I'd make a good mentor to
you."  She put on the helmet, and her voice became a demonic growl.


Author's Notes: 

     My original outline for #3 kinda overflowed into this issue AND into at
least a little bit of next.  I'm still trying to keep with shorter individual
installments, but details keep filling in the spaces in between.

     Side note in a worldbuilding sense, the "dark backlash" magical girl
stuff like Madoka Magica or Magical Girl Raising Project likely never
happened in the ASH setting, since it's largely a 21st Century thing in real
life.  Heck, Sailor Moon was just barely getting traction when the Godmarket
hit.  As a result, the in-universe magical girl tropes are probably rather
different from those in real life.  And, as implied by Jessa's "old cartoons"
statement, any later mahou shoujo stuff in Japan didn't make a large impact
in the Combine (although one might argue that it hasn't made a huge impact in
real life America either, outside of geek circles). 

     There's a lot of backstory brought up and elaborated on in the May 2
scene.  The Ride of the Valkyries was something Matt Rossi III and Tony Pi
brought into the world as part of Warden, and the Devlin Marx incident has
been referred to briefly before in this series, as happening in the Kheper's
Path arc of ASH #89-92.

     Yes, the last line of this issue is hardly a shocker to the reader, but
sometimes a cliffhanger is for the benefit of the characters, yah?

     While there's enough clues in the past two issues to puzzle out which
real name goes with which codename, here's a key.

     Tetra-Red: Xueli "Julie" Li 
     Hexa-Blue: Tamica "Tammy" Sullivan
     Octa-Green: Dhriti Singh 
     Icosa-Pink: Olivia Stuart 

     I've got profiles written up already, but I won't post them to the ASH
Wiki until after at least one more issue.


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to ! is the official ASH Wiki, focusing on the Fourth
Heroic Age, but containing some information about other Ages.


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