ASH: Shadow Girls #5 - Rising Stars

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Wed Jan 12 20:32:06 PST 2022

     [The cover shows the four Morning Stars reflected in a black,
      curved surface, with a gleaming yellow star behind them.]

 .|, COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS             An ASH Universe Story
 '|`   SHADOW GIRLS      #5 - Rising Stars
			 copyright 2022 by Dave Van Domelen

			     The Morning Stars

     Tetra-Red		 Xueli "Julie" Li - The Leader
     Hexa-Blue		 Tamica "Tammy" Sullivan - The Brains
     Octa-Green		 Dhriti "Tee" Singh - The Fighter
     Icosa-Pink		 Olivia "Liv" Stuart - The Heart
     Hellhound?	    	 Madelyn "Maddie" Chin - The Mentor...under protest


[May 3, 2027 - The Lair]

     "No WAY are you Hellhound," Octa-Green snorted.  "She had real powers,
you're too old for that."
     Maddie, without removing the helmet, slipped on a somewhat bulky
motorcycling glove, which then crackled with electrical energy.
"Technology's wonderful, isn't it?"  
     Hexa-Blue frowned.  "But it has limits."
     "Like I told Julie," Maddie shed the glove and helmet, "there are
secrets here that aren't mine to share.  I will say that while I genuinely
was Hellhound, I wasn't the only one.  We shared the identity, covered for
each other to keep people from figuring out our secrets, that sort of thing."
She frowned.  "Not that it stopped a few people from figuring out my
involvement.  We probably would have been outed if we hadn't retired when we
     "So you know us and we know you, and how you got all this stuff," Julie
nodded, powering down and dismissing the shadows.  "You already know I prefer
going by Julie, even though I know you can say Xueli correctly.  And you know
Tammy goes by Tammy because of me."
     "I'm Liv!" Icosa-Pink bounced up and down before dismissing her
shadows.  Unsurprisingly, her leotard was bright pink.  "And Dhriti goes by
     "Pretty much the same reason Julie went with her nickname," Octa-Green
shrugged as she powered down as well.
     Tammy narrowed her eyes, before sighing and joining the rest in being
     Maddie clapped her hands.  "Okay!  First order of business, I'm gonna
get all your retina scans into the system, that much doesn't change when
you're 'on,' I hope.  Most of the security systems are passive alerts, but
there's a couple of locks and unpleasant diversions you'd rather not fall
into.  Then I'll get your measurements in both 'modes' so I can make you some
proper outfits.  I can have something basic ready in a few days...I got a lot
of practice on the armor-strength sewing machine back in the Hellhound days.
I have some ideas for fancier outfits, but that'll take parts I don't keep
around, and I'll want to see you in action a bit more first anyway."
     "Why do we need fancy uniforms?" Tee asked.  "I mean, I wouldn't say no
to better shoes, but our powers provide the rest."
     "Anchors exist," Maddie shrugged.  "And beyond that, do you know for
sure you won't involuntarily power down if you get stunned in a fight?  If
the shadows drop at a bad time, you want at least some protection, both
physically and for your identities."
     "So, you getting out the tape measure, yah?" Liv asked, looking around
as if trying to find tailoring gear.
     "Pshaw, that's so TwenCen," Maddie smiled.  "The cameras around this
room can do the job, just stand in the middle and make the poses I tell you
to, then power up and repeat.  Oh, and take off your shoes first...the
leotards won't cause problems, but I will need good images of your bare feet
for the footwear."
     Tee narrowed her eyes.  "Are you sure the shadows won't cause problems
for the imaging?"
     "No, but in that case I do have the old school stuff around here
somewhere," Maddie shrugged.  "You're a lot more durable when powered up,
though, so I suspect that minor issues with fit won't be as noticeable then.
It's more important that you can comfortably wear these under your street
clothes when not powered up."

     A few minutes later, the scans were done to Maddie's satisfaction.
     "Yeah, just being stretchy won't be enough, some of you actually get
smaller in some measurements.  I've never actually designed a uniform for
someone who changes shape, but I know some people in the field who I can ask,
carefully."  Technically, the "field" of superhero uniform design was only a
handful of people, but Beth had put Maddie in touch with a couple of the
armorers for the Marshals program, who had to deal with a wide variety of
powers while ensuring a common look for the NAC Marshals.  
     "This place doesn't have a changing room does it?" Tammy asked, looking
a little self-conscious.
     "Actually, it does.  There's a small training dojo durable enough for
people with your powers, but really meant for one man.  And I emphasize *man*
here, since I had to do some renovation on the locker room beyond just making
it big enough for a few women.  I'll give you a tour next, but I also have
some homework for you."
     Liv groaned.
     "You've had your data files for over a month now, I'm sure you've read
over them pretty thoroughly.  I want you to put your heads together and pick
someone to go after.  Someone who should be an easy target, and who you can
take down without getting the Hangmen OR Bathory on your backs right away,"
Maddie said.  "Anything overt is going to get targets on your backs, but it's
best to start small anyway."
     "And I take it you have one in mind already, and will grade our work?"
Tammy arched an eyebrow.  
     "I have a few, but I still need to spend more time with the data myself,
you may come up with one I haven't thought of yet.  We'll get back together
here on Friday night, I'll pass out the outfits, and you'll present your
attack plan to me.  Okay?"
     "Okay," they chorused, with varying levels of enthusiasm.

     After the tour, Maddie sent them home with warnings about spending too
much time exploring the tunnels, then sat staring at the Hellhound helmet.
     "Time for Hellhound to ride again?" she muttered to her distorted
reflection in the visor.  "Or do I take the suggestion and become the new
Professor Shade?"
     She stood and paced a bit, then headed for a locked room she hadn't
shown the girls, the one that held a lot of the things she'd moved out of the
way in order to turn the hideout into her own place.
     She picked up another helmet, this one of featureless black armor
glass.  "No, if I'm going to be a TwenCen legacy, it'll be my OWN."

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[May 4, 2027 - Albany, New York Sector]

     The Academy had still been working on formalized tracks when Beth had
been there, but they'd already put in place a few "non-optional electives"
for anyone who had combat-ready powers, including a course almost everyone
hated: Survey of Legal and Regulatory Processes.  Basically, it was a class
about how to do paperwork, the kind of paperwork that fills the time between
fight scenes for a government-backed supernormal.
     And, frankly, it had been the most useful course Beth had ever taken.
Which Professor Blake said it would be...not that anyone believed him at the
     Beth's graycell pinged, rescuing her from the latest page of red tape,
if only for a few minutes.  The tone indicated it was "personal," which meant
it wouldn't be actively monitored...probably.  No one believed that, either.
     "Heya, Mads," Beth directed the call to her headpiece after pressing
     "You busy?"
     "Just paperwork, New York Sector's been relatively quiet lately."  Which
was to say, none of the Manhattan Autonomous Sector fun had spilled over into
the boroughs that had stayed in America recently.  "What's up?"
     "Well, it's been a busy week *here*, I tell you, and it's not helping
that I let myself get roped into some community service stuff for the local
high school.  Good publicity, know that we've got two actual high
schools on the island now, right?"
     "I do keep up with the old hangouts, yes," Beth replied carefully.
Because they knew they couldn't talk without observers, the three former
Hellhounds had a few codewords arranged to give each other a heads-up when
being too open was a bad idea, and Maddie'd just told her that there was
paranormal trouble at the high schools.  Given how many of the less dedicated
paragangers had "reformed" and entered the school population, but declined to
leave the Autonomous Sector and go to the Academy, it was the main reason she
still kept up with the old hangouts.
     "Well, there's some talk about getting an intramural Paraball team
going, since not everyone wants to race motorcycles," Maddie explained.  "And
I might have kinda agreed to help with uniforms.  I'm not bad with a sewing
machine, but I don't really know how to deal with powered kids who might get
bigger or smaller or catch fire...okay, I can probably do that one, plenty of
fireproof fabrics.  But could you put me in touch with your tailor so I can
get some help?"
     Beth nodded, "Sure, I can do that.  No guarantee he'll be allowed to
tell you much, but I'm sure he'll have some tips."  This was all a dodge.
Maddie had her own way of getting ahold of the armorer who'd helped out with
some of the trickier bits of the Hellhound costumes.  This was purely for
Beth's information...somehow Maddie had gotten stuck with mentoring a
teenaged superhero team, which was going to be all SORTS of fun.
     "When can you come visit next?  I got hassled by some Snow Leopards the
other day, I think Bathory's getting her back up over something or other,"
Maddie complained, sending a chill down Beth's spine.  The signal crackled
slightly before she got her electromagnetism back under control.  "Bring
friends?  And maybe a light armored column?"
     Beth schooled her voice to sound bored, in an Oh This Again way.  "Mads,
you know the MAS is *autononous*, it's in the name.  We can't go in unless
Umbrae specifically asks us for help, and last I heard, he hadn't.  And trust
me, I'd hear.  You can still move out, you know...Umbrae didn't set up a wall
or anything, he's trying to play nice for the cameras."  Beth knew Maddie
would never leave, but part of their public cover was that Beth was always
trying to get her to sell Grocery Store and move to at least a safer
(American) part of New York City.  These arguments were great places to hide
codewords, too.
     "Now now, Beth, I'm a big girl.  Heck, I'm older than you.  Chinatown is
my home, it's gonna take more than a few kitties and a problem customer or
two to make me turn tail and run," Maddie replied.
     Problem customer.  That meant someone who knew that at least Maddie had
been Hellhound.  The "or two" indicated that Maddie wasn't sure if it was the
same person who'd sent the woman into Grocery Store last year.  It also meant
that Beth really needed to decide soon if she wanted to come clean to her
superiors about her extracurricular activities prior to becoming a Marshal.
That secret identity was rapidly approaching its expiration date.
     "Well, hope you get it ironed out," Beth sighed.  "Unfortunately, I have
forms that aren't going to fill themselves, so I guess I should get back to
them."  That, sadly, was not code.
     "Ah, paperwork.  The price of success, I know it so well.  Have fun,
talk to you later!" 
     Maddie hung up.
     Once those forms were dealt with, Beth was going to go over the latest
intel from MAS with a fine-toothed comb and see if there was anything she
could pass up the chain beyond, "My friend in Manhattan thinks stuff's gonna
happen."  And maybe find hints about what the kids Maddie had gotten herself
involved with had been up to....

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[May 7, 2027 - Chinatown]

     "You got it all, Leon?" Maddie asked as she poked her head out of the
back room.  She'd promoted the tall, phlegmatic man from part-timer to
full-timer this week, claiming she'd been working herself frazzled and needed
some more "me time."  He was glad of the extra hours and responsibility, and
hoped to start his own store someday...but probably not in Manhattan.  Leon
Byun had come to town as a paraganger groupie without any powers, but quickly
realized it was a bad scene.  He'd burned a few too many bridges with his
family in New Jersey, though, and needed to take some time to prove he was a
Responsible Son again before going home.
     Leon nodded.  "Have fun clubbing or whatever."
     Definitely "whatever," Maddie thought as she closed the door and headed
for the hidden passageway that Leon had either never found, or had kept his
mouth shut about (and managed to not trigger any of the which
case she might have another job for him).  A few minutes later, she was
walking into the lair, which for the first time in months was not empty.
     "Welcome to Plato's Cave," Julie smiled.  "That's what Tammy's been
calling it, anyway."
     "What is it really named, anyway?" Liv asked.
     "I never found anything in here with a name, so I don't know if my
grandpa ever named it," Maddie shrugged.  "I just call it The Lair, but I
suppose Plato's Cave is a decent name.  It's where we watch the shadows on
the wall." 
     "So, the costumes ready?" Tee asked.  "Liv wanted to look around, but we
restrained her."
     Maddie nodded.  "They're in the changing each have a locker
there now, so you can stick your street clothes there.  Probably not enough
room for you to all change at once unless you're really flexible, though."
     Julie and Tammy blushed, Liv giggled, and Tee rolled her eyes.  "Dibs!"
Liv shouted.
     "Just a sec, speedy," Maddie held up her hand.  "So, these uniforms are
basically armored leotards with some elastic panels, so they should fit you
in both forms.  None of your hands changed noticeably, so the gloves are made
of tougher material, with armored panels on the backs of the forearms to help
with blocking.  Also, they're really important for making sure you don't
leave fingerprints or obvious DNA samples.  Right now, the shoes are just
off-the-shelf running shoes, but I added stretch panels in the middle.
They're the kind with individual toes, so you should have a bit more
flexibility for things like jumping around on roofs."
     "Toe-shoes are so WEIRD," Julie shuddered.  
     "Best I could do on short notice.  I have some ideas for the real boots,
but those are going to take more than a couple days.  Speaking of longer
term, you definitely need to start practicing martial arts when powered down,
enhancement usually works better if the base 'you' is better, plus the whole
Anchors Exist problem.  Focus on standard normie self-defense stuff, evade
and won't raise suspicions and if you're powered down your first
goal is going to be escape anyway."
     Tee nodded.  "Already do.  Been doing martial arts since I was a kid."
     "Great, you can see about getting the others into your classes, so you
have more excuses to be seen together.  People did hear the fight last Friday
night, so word's getting around that the neighborhood might be getting a
little dangerous...I wouldn't be surprised if your parents weren't already
pushing you to take self..."
     "Yeah, my mom has," Julie sighed.  
     "There you go.  Make momma happy.  And if your parents," Maddie looked
to Tammy and then Liv, "aren't interested in it from the safety angle, pitch
it as social.  I hear parents love it when you make new friends at school."
     "NOW can I go put on my costume?" Liv asked, then zipped off towards the
changing room when Maddie made a shooing motion.

     A few minutes later, all four had gotten changed, and were walking
around checking the comfort and fit.
     "Modesty-wise, this isn't much of an improvement," Tammy frowned.
     "Right now, no," Maddie admitted.  "Still basically legless leotards
with shoes and gloves.  On the other hand, they won't completely shred if a
Snow Leopard's claws make it through your shadows, so they'll preserve
modesty for longer.  The masks will need spirit gum if you want them to fit
better, I think for now they might be safer to leave off.  Did you all notice
the earpieces?"
     Liv and Julie shook their heads, Tee and Tammy nodded. 
     "They can clip onto the chokers when not in use, but the chokers don't
just change your voice, they can transmit once the earpieces are turned on.
The batteries are rechargeable, but they only last a few hours right now,
another commercial thing I modded a little.  The final masks will do a better
job of that, and should be finished before the other stuff."
     Julie and Liv popped back into the changing room and returned a few
seconds later with the earpieces, which they stuffed into their ears.
     "Short range, decent encrypt," Maddie explained.  "They can pick up from
a phone-sized transmitter from much farther away, though, and I'm working on
getting you separate milspec graycells that can survive a few hits, since I
can't make ones that can reliably stay under your shadow sheaths.  I might
see if storing things in your hair is a valid option, though, since the
shadows do cover it."
     "I'm impressed you threw all this together in only a week," Tammy said,
powering up and shimmying slightly as her costume adjusted to her new height
and altered measurements.  
     "I have a very deep junk drawer here, some of it is leftover supertech
from the 1990s.  Grandpa was a bit of a gadgeteer on top of everything else.
Nothing vital in your outfits will fritz out around an Anchor, but the final
suits will be as normaltech as I can manage," Maddie said.  "Okay, now to
check your homework.  Gimme the five W's...who, where, why, when, and, um,
how.  It has a W in it."
     The other three powered up as well, and then Hexa-Blue opened up the
laptop.  "You gonna get us a better computer too?"
     Maddie laughed.  "Yeah, I can manage that.  I can even make them look
like school-issue so your parents don't wonder.  Now, tell."
     "We decided on Al Mirage," Tetra-Red said, waiting for the laptop to
boot up.  "He's scum, nobody likes him, and one of Tee's friends ended up
'dating' him over the winter break."
     "Ugh," Maddie frowned.  "I guess fear of Hellhound wasn't going to keep
him on the straight and narrow forever."
     "Yeah, after the beating you gave him, I'm surprised he can walk," Tee
said, clearly hoping to give an equal or greater beating.  
     It had actually been Beth behind that particular "lesson," but no point
bringing that up.  "Okay, deserving target.  His illusions could cause
problems, but he probably can't directly hurt you.  He doesn't like fair
fights, as you know.  However, if you go after him, anyone around might feel
like joining the fight, even if they'd love to see his head cracked open."
     "Right, but current surveillance courtesy of our mysterious Professor
Shade indicates that on Saturdays, he typically spends time alone or nearly
so in the ruins of the old Central Park Zoo, on his motorcycle," Hexa-Blue
explained as the files came up.  "At least one of the Pod Squad has been
spotted spending time around him lately, and the paraganger called Jumping
Jack, but they only bother if there's nothing better to do.  Saturdays
usually play host to an unsanctioned but unpunished road race if the weather
permits, which tomorrow's forecast certainly does seem to permit.  And
Mr. Meraz himself is no longer welcome in the Saturday races after an
incident last month."
     "What kind of incident?" Maddie asked.
     "He tried to pick up the kid sister of one of the 'ragers.  At the
junior high," Tee snarled.  "He hardly ever leaves Central Park right now,
he's trusting the Truce to keep him safe."
     "Sounds like if we don't get him, he's gonna be found floating in the
East River, yah?" Icosa-Pink smirked.  "Hey, did we ever decide what to do
with him once we beat him?"
     Tetra-Red shook her head.  "That's the one problem with our plan.  The
fact that he's not in jail already means Umbrae's willing to turn a blind
eye.  Let Mirage be a freelance rapist to keep people scared."
     Icosa-Pink frowned, something that was apparent despite the shadows
around her head, but for once didn't say anything.  Maddie got the impression
that the girls had been over the matter of Umbrae's justice a lot in the last
month or so, and Liv was consistently outvoted.
     "Any suggestions from our mentor?" Octa-Green asked.
     "He has outstanding warrants in New Jersey, related to some Rust
Brothers parties," Maddie pointed out, "which is in your information files.
If he can be threatened, make him emigrate and face Combine justice.  If he
can't, punt him through the Lincoln Tunnel."
     "I bet if Hellhound shows up, he'll fold," Tetra-Red suggested.
     "Possibly," Maddie admitted, "but then this wouldn't be your trial run.
No, Hellhound can stay retired, I'll come along under a different identity,
but I'll hang back unless things go completely pear-shaped."
     "Why is a pear a bad shape?" Icosa-Pink asked.
     "They're shaped like butts," Octa-Green replied.
     "Oooooh," Pink nodded.  "Well, mine isn't shaped like a pear."
     "Girl, you will never have a proper butt," Tetra-Red snarked.
     "Ahem," Hexa-Blue interrupted.  "If you won't be Hellhound, will you
take up the mantle of Professor Shade, as our benefactor suggested you do?"
     Maddie shook her head.  "I'm still not sure I want to wear that
pectoral, but even if I do, I have my own legacy to pick up."  She opened up
a vertical case, revealing a matte black motorcycling suit.  It had been her
Hellhound costume, but she'd stripped off the flame detailing and added a few
more panels to make it look different in outline.  Then she pulled a black
armorglass helmet out from a rack next to it.  "Bathory sent her kitties
looking for a black opal, might as well give her one."

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[May 8, 2027 - Central Park Zoo]

     The only animals left in the zoo were park natives, like squirrels and
pigeons, and even they weren't willing to hang around while Al Mirage and one
of the Manson Haights ("Rocky Road," Al was pretty sure) did their own
off-road race though the ruined habitats and moats.  It wasn't much, but it
was better than sitting around listening to the race in the distance that he
was VERY unwelcome at.
     Al had just pulled ahead of Rocky and jumped across one of the moats
made of fake rocks when the flashbang went off.  To his credit, he managed to
stop in a more or less controlled way, and his helmet meant he was only
startled rather than actually blinded.
     "Who the f...!" he started to shout.
     Then he saw the four slim and feminine shadows in his path, each tinged
with a different color.
     "Villain, I am Tetra-Red, the exemplar of justice!"
     "I am Hexa-Blue, the light of reason!"
     "I am Icosa-Pink, the princess of love!"
     "And I'm Octa-Green, the fist in your face!"
     And with that, one of the shadows punched him, shattering his helmet and
knocking him from his bike.
     "FUCKFUCKFUCK!" he shouted, scrambling for cover and spawning off
illusory copies of himself.  "A little help, Rocky?"
     Rocky Road idled his motorcycle on the far side of the moat, a grin on
his face.  "Oh, I don't wanna break the Truce by fighting in the park, Al.
Besides, don't you LIKE handling teenaged girls?"
     "Not funny!  I don't think these chicks care about the Truce!" he added,
making sure all of his copies also spoke audibly.  He'd only recently picked
up the trick of adding sound to his projections, and he'd need every trick he
had to survive whoever these crazy girls were.
     Oh shit.  They were all looking at the real him.
     "Your crimes stand out like the sun," the one who called herself
Tetra-Red proclaimed.  "Surrender yourself to American justice, or we'll
deliver you to it ourselves."
     Rocky, meanwhile, was nearly falling over laughing.
     That tore it.  Al pulled out his pistol, a nasty piece of work he took
off a Jolly Molecule, and fired at the bitch.
     Well, that was the plan, but somehow the world turned to pain before he
could pull the trigger.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

     The Pod Squadder stopped laughing long enough to say, "Nice cheap shot!"
     Maddie blinked.  It looked like the missing fifth gem had found them, as
a dark yellow silhouette had just slammed into Al Mirage from behind, and
Maddie could hear the bones break from a couple dozen meters away.
     "Okay, okay...that was hilarious, but you girls better get gone before
the Hangmen show up.  They don't care if you're not part of a paragang, they
take the Truce seriously," the Manson Haight warned.
     "No, this rapist isn't getting away, the yellow shadow snarled.  Icosa-
Pink started, and almost spoke, but shut her mouth with a "clack" audible
over the comlink.
     "Tell ya what, kid...and yeah, I know I'm only a few weeks old and
shouldn't be calling anyone kid...I'll drop him off in a hospital.  In
Jersey.  I'm sure they'll recognize him.  Now scram before I decide your
entertainment value is waning," the bud-clone made a shooing motion.
     Tetra-Red looked at the others, then to the newcomer.  "We need to talk
anyway, follow us."
     "Why?" she shot back.  "I don't know any of you, and I don't trust you
any more than I trust the poddie."
     "Well, I know YOU," Icosa-Pink retorted, "and we talk now or I find you
later, YAH?" she emphasized the verbal litter.
     The yellow gem-holder's eyes narrowed.  "Fine."
     The five leapt off away from the zoon, and Maddie triggered a few more
flashbangs to distract the Haight and any other watchers, but suspected she'd
need to write off the Central Park tunnel entrance and seal it hard.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[May 8, 2027 - The Tunnels]

     "I guess you're Dodeca-Yellow, then?" Tetra-Red suggested once they'd
gotten reasonably far from the Central Park entrance.  
     "What are you talking about?" the object of Red's attention spat back. 
     Icosa-Pink paused, concentrating, then pointed at the girl's belly.
There was no gem visible there, just deep amber shadow.  "You have the
missing shape.  There, in your belly button.  Now that I know it's there, I
can sense it, but you're masking it REALLY well, Jessica.  I guess being
closed off is your super power, not just your personality, yah?" she said,
clearing the shadows from her own face.
     "Jess Davies?" Octa-Green blinked.  "Okay, yeah, now I recognize your
     Jess took a step back.  "And who the fuck are you?  I can't tell a thing
through your weird voice distortion...and how come I can't do that?"
     Maddie pulled a dark yellow choker out of a pouch on her hip.  "Voice
distorter tech.  I kinda guessed you'd be yellow, but I figured we'd run into
the fifth gem holder eventually.  I'm Black Opal, and for my sins I'm the
Merlin for this batch of knights."
     "Why don't you tell us how you got your gem?" Tetra-Red suggested.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[March 19, 2027 - East Village]


	       *	      *		     *		    *

[May 8, 2027 - West Village]

     "Well, okay then," Tetra-Red shrugged.  "I bet it's basically the same
as what we got...mysterious box left in our bedrooms, tied with a color-coded
ribbon, containing a gem and a dongle with some information that'd be really
useful for hunting badguys, and a suggestion you look for a mentor, right?"
     Jess said nothing.
     "Once we met up with Black Opal," Hexa-Blue picked up the story, "she
was able to unlock additional information in the files we'd been given,
including the proclaimed identity of our benefactor.  One Professor Shade, or
so they profess, a Third Age hero who was assumed dead shortly before the end
of the Godmarket, but who claims to have merely gone underground.  While
Professor Shade may be prevaricating, Black Opal has proven to be a useful
ally and mentor in the admittedly short time we've known her."
     "I really recommend you join the Morning Stars...that's what the team is
named...because even if no one really cares that you brutalized Al Mirage, we
just announced that we're not bound by the Truce," Black Opal pointed out.
"It's been almost a year since Hellhound retired, and longer since Warden
vanished, there's going to be some paragangers and even 'reformed'
paragangers who will be itching for a fight with us.  And if you're a solo
act without any of the resources I can offer, you'll go down hard, no matter
how sneaky you are...kudos for stealth, by the way, I didn't even have a
feeling that something was out of place before you attacked."
     There was silence, and the faintest of hints that multiple emotions were
playing over Jess's shadow-cloaked face.
     "...Fine.  But I'm not doing the stupid pose and announce thing.  You
can draw all the fire and I'll do the tactically smart thing," Jess finally
     "Okay, first thing, back to Plato's Cave where I'll get your
measurements for a proper outfit, fortunately I ordered enough material for
five just in case..." Black Opal gestured for Dodeca-Yellow to follow.

	       *	      *		     *		    *

[May 8, 2027 - The Scott Building]

     Rex Umbrae looked over the report that the Hangmen had just submitted
regarding the day's disturbance in Central Park.  


Author's Notes:

     Well, just the outline for this issue was over 100 lines, so it might be
a bit longer than I hoped to see from installments of this series, but I
wanted to get Jessica introduced and Al Mirage beaten before #6, which will
have what was originally going to be the last part of #4 before mission creep
got into my outlines.  
     And yeesh, it ended up being at the long end of ASH issue size.

     I did originally plan to have Maddie become Professor Shade II, but it
didn't really feel right.  Even if she didn't want to be a solo Hellhound,
why take on the identity of someone she never met and has no prior connection
to?  (Technically, Maddie isn't old enough to really remember her
grandfather, but he probably did see her a few times before he died.)

     The weird toe-shoes aren't Vibrams, again because in real life they were
introduced after 1998.  But it's one of those things for which the time was
probably right, and they might have even hit the market in the ASH universe
in the 1990s as a spinoff from someone's supersuit.  (According to Wikipedia,
they were originally invented for yachters, and in a world with superheroes
there'd be even more demand for something that lets you have barefoot-
equivalent feel while not actually being barefoot.)

     Yes, Jess's one-word narration was always the plan, not just a way to
trim wordcount.

     Next issue: The TRUE ORIGIN of the Morning Stars!


     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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