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Chapters One to Three
© copyright 2009 Jim McPherson
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THE DAMNATION BRIGADE
“What the hell was that?” someone said.
“Looks like some sort of ship. Think it’s a spacecraft?”
“Pretty small for a spacecraft, Airhead. Not that I’ve seen a spacecraft before.”
“Looks more like a mini-sub.”
“Submarines do not generally fall out of the sky, Diver.”
“Thanks, old man. I was aware of that.”
Devil Wind, one of Thrygragos Byron’s Primary Nucleoids, whirled over the apparently deserted Aleutian Atoll. Long ago Illuminaries of Weir named him Vayu Maelstrom, though his fellow devils called him by his attribute, which was the whirlwind. And devil he was; albeit not one of the cartoon Christian variety, most of whom were corruptions of pagan gods and goddesses, the demons and monsters of antiquity.
Vayu was a Master Deva, a member of the virtually immortal, third generation of devazurkind. Master Devas, devils, were indeed fallen angels. Which of course made them extraterrestrial. Also made them the pagan gods and goddesses, the demons and monsters of antiquity.
Humanoid and male, the skin of his muscular upper body and vaguely Amerindian-looking face was blue. His lower body was obscured by a whirlwind that held him aloft. Like most devils he had a third eye just above where his eyebrows would have met if they met, which they did not. A knot of hair jetted out of the top of his otherwise shaven head. It glowed not unlike Gypsium.
Even though he called it Brainrock, Maelstrom was very familiar with the miraculous Godstuff Outer Earthlings, after years of research and billions in bullion, most of it supplied by New Century Enterprises, discovered how to process into a teleportive fuel. It was Brainrock-Gypsium the Cosmic Express intended to use on its still inexplicably, and very much violently, aborted intergalactic mission in order to traverse approaching inconceivable distances in otherwise impossibly short periods of time.
It really was too bad the Express exploded before it reached Outer Space. Vayu’s father and some of his siblings in Great Byron had invested so much of their time and effort over the past thirty-five years into clandestinely guiding the work performed by NCE’s dedicated coterie of, admittedly, merely mortal scientists and technicians, the ones who toiled so diligently on Centauri Island for almost as long. He hated to see all that go for naught. What he hated a lot more was being sent out here on damage control duty.
Not only had the Cosmic Express exploded, early evidence indicated it was exploded deliberately. Intercepted, rather, and blasted between-space; thrust into Cathonia, the Cathonic Zone or Dome. Whereupon some of Vayu’s previously cathonitized siblings in Byron, one of the Six Great Gods or Goddesses who made up the second generation of devazurkind, and many more of his cousins in either Thrygragos Lazareme or Thrygragos Varuna Mithras seized the opportunity presented to escape the Dome, -- Lazaremists and Mithradites being the other two devazur tribes who shared the same three Great Goddess mothers Byronics did.
Seized more than the opportunity, as was now apparent. They must have taken physical possession of all sixty-six of its occupants, the Express’s so-called Cosmicompanions, male and female humans in nearly equal proportions. Then, when its Gypsium fuel activated, the Express separated into its constituent vessels: its hub craft, central control vehicle and six Cosmicars. These individual units instantly teleported elsewhere, hither and yon. Thus all the devils who managed to acquire Cosmicompanions, who managed to make them their host shells, in effect broke out of jail. Needless to say his grandfather, whom some Outer Earthlings regarded as the Devil, as Satan Himself, was no more happy than Maelstrom was about the breakout.
The Moloch Sedon, the latter-day Demon King as well as, from a far earlier, non-Earth era in the distant path, the All-Father of Devazurkind, was the sole member of the first generation of devazurs; the procreative member, as it were. His devic essence made up the Cathonic Dome, the zone of energy that had kept the Inner Earth separate from the Outer Earth since the Great Flood of Genesis. It was he who had cathonitized most of the devils in the first place, usually for homicide, no matter how inadvertent it may have been, – devils were not supposed to kill potential worshippers. It was he who enforced their howsoever many decades, centuries or millennia of confinement within Cathonia. If he had wanted to release them then he damn well would have, -- and he didn’t!
Because it was the Age of Byron, as opposed to the Age of Mithras or Lazareme, both of whom had had their day, it was up to the Byronics to recathonitize them. Unless of course they wanted to take their place. Dark Sedon hated being so alone in the Night’s Sky.
While most of those who got away were Master Devas, a few were fourth generational members of the Family Thanatos. There were only ten such beings. Until they came along, starting around six decades earlier, the offspring of Master Devas, -- by Master Devas, without resorting to occupying any intermediaries --, were invariably azuras; spirit beings like their parents had been until about four thousand years ago, hence the devazur race. Not so fourth generation devils. They were as solid as he was and given time to mature, which, it went without saying, they had not been given, were potentially as powerful as he was as well.
Vayu Maelstrom, Devil Wind, knew how King Cold and his Scarlet Empress, Tantal and Methandra Thanatos, were able to have five sets of devic twins. Knew as well that Mother Murder, Mater Matare, the Apocalyptic of Death, was pregnant when she was cathonitized more like thirteen decades earlier, along with her fellow Primary Apocalyptics: War, Disease and Disaster. What was done was done, though, and even Thrygragos Mithras failed to turn back the hands of time. Which was one of the reasons he was now dead!
Maelstrom just hoped none of the Thanatoids, nor any of the cathonitized Apocalyptics,
primary or otherwise, had attached themselves to the cosmicompanions whose cosmicar
he had pursued mostly through between-space to this weather-beaten blotch of
land in the North Pacific. They would definitely resist his efforts to coerce
them back inside, let alone stick them back upstairs. And, assuming they were
decathonitized with their Brainrock power focuses intact, they were more than
capable of putting up a decent fight.
No wonder he hated the air out here.
"Cerebrus," imparted a spirit voice, "OMP's not with us any more."
"Cerebrus," imparted another, "Something's trying to take me over."
"Give into it, Gloriel," thought Cerebrus David Ryne for those remaining
to hear. "If I'm right, the horror that's been our existence for the last
quarter century may soon be over."
The apparently deserted Aleutian Atoll was a cold, dreary place shrouded by a sheet of icy fog. Using his third eye the Whirling Deva scanned the land, such as it was, warily. There were no habitations he could see. No life save a few birds, some seals on the rocks, fish in the sea, and shells on the beach. Disturbingly, something started bothering him besides the air out here.
'This Outer Earth is truly strange,’ Maelstrom muttered to himself. ‘Either my senses are addled or this smog is somehow sentient. Not devic though, not entirely. Eight, nine different creatures; human I think, or mostly so, -- except for one. But how?' Staying sky-borne, he quickly found the cosmicar crashed against some rocks on the perimeter of the atoll. He could detect no signs of life inside it and there were no bodies strewn about outside it. Nor were there any devils manifest either to his human eyes or his devic one.
'False alarm,' the devil breathed in relief. 'Grandfather must have made a mistake. The cosmicar got away from him but its occupants didn't. No threat here. Decathonitized devils need a body to possess in order to manifest themselves; a proper body, alive and with intelligence, preferably human. Birds, fish, and seals hardly qualify.'
Touching ground riskily he entered the empty cosmicar and activated its computer, the likes of which he had played with while visiting his younger siblings when they were working on something probably identical back home a few years ago. He had no problem translating the resultant identification display into ‘one-tongue’, the universal language: 'November 30, 1980; Cosmicar Four; Cosmicaptain Dmetri Diomad; Cosmicompanions ....'
He switched it off. Nothing here of any interest either. Suddenly the roof of the cosmicar collapsed from outside. Something was beating on it. Maelstrom scrunched low then whirled back into the air. A massive, multiple-eyed, man-mountain of a devil was pulverizing the car. He recognized the fourth generational Thanatoid doing the damage immediately.
"Turn, Antaeor Thanatos. Turn and face Great Byron's Primary Nucleoid." The Thanatoid was fifteen feet tall. Save for its five eyes, it was composed entirely of animate granite. Without lifting its feet off the ground, the monstrosity rotated slowly towards Maelstrom.
"Air sprite! Little wisp of nothingness! I've waited too long for this."
“A quarter century, Brain Boy?”
“Christ! Is that who I think it is?”
“Sure looks like it, Sea,” came back her twin brother. “Can’t
be Peter, though.”
Forty-seven years ago, in the month of Antheal, Year of the Dome 5933, Unmoving Byron summoned Devil Wind, together with his fellow Primary Nucleoids, Vayu’s breed brother and sister, Chimaera Glimmenmare and Sedona Spellbinder, to Aka Godbad City, the Great God their father’s then, as now, headquarters on the Subcontinent of Godbad.
Headquarters was somewhat of a pun since Thrygragos Byron was just an oversized head with no body whatsoever. Was aptly addressed as the Unmoving One due to the fact not even his eyelids nor his lips moved any longer. What Byron had to say astonished them. "It seems," he imparted through smoky Sedona, his usual mouthpiece, "That there has been born a fourth generation. Not azuras, please understand me, true devils!"
"But that's impossible," the always-particulate Spellbinder protested in her own voice. "Only the six gods and goddesses, -- Thrygragos, you and your brothers, and Trigregos, your three long lost sisters --, can procreate the likes of us. All we can bear, by each other, are azuras, nearly useless spirit beings, the same as we were before Tvasitar Smithmonger crafted our talismans."
"Even when we possess other sentient beings," added ever-changing Chimaera, Byron’s Stallion, though today he had adopted the likeness of a be-armed seahorse instead of a centaur, his most common shape, "All we can beget are mortal deviants, short-lived by our own undying standards."
"Never forget Attis, son of my late, unloved brother in Sedon, Mitravaruna, and his daughter by Trigregos, whom Illuminaries sometimes called Marut Kanin, or Kore-Eris, but we knew best as Discord."
"An aberration," contributed Vayu. "A freak, not a devil."
"Yet he had near-devic abilities,” Chimaera reminded Maelstrom. “Kept coming back to life and could wield our power focuses. That means it's at least conceivable. Recall, not even a hundred years ago the Medusa, Mater Matare, became pregnant by the Primary Apocalyptics."
"Murder was pregnant; that much is certain," argued smoky Sedona. "While I grant you the Undying One’s Smithy crafted her four extra talismans in anticipation of her giving birth to not two or three but four devils simultaneously, that doesn't mean it was by the Apocalyptics. Nor does it necessarily mean her offspring would have been fellow devils."
"We cathonitized her before we could find out," agreed Byron. "And that's exactly what I propose to do to these ones."
"Who are their parents?"
"Your old friends, my Stallion. King Cold of Lathakra and his Scarlet Empress, the hothead also of Mythland in the Mystic Mountains. Or as Illuminaries of Weir have them: Tantal and Methandra Thanatos. I trust that makes no difference."
"Of course it doesn't."
"So be it then."
And so it sort of was, -- sort of was because one of them, Summer, was executed by his own King Cold of a father. He’d made the mistake of falling for Pretty Parsis, Devil Wind’s seductive sister from a much lower breed of three, and subsequently betraying his parents and fellow siblings to the rest of the enchantress’s tribe. As well there had long been strong suspicions two of the others got away while Vayu and his fellow components of the Byronic Nucleus were in the process of cathonitizing them.
Now, almost a half century later, Maelstrom was faced with the task of recathonitizing
the ground-bound elemental. Only this time he was not fused with his father
and immediate siblings; this time he was acting alone. Fortunately, so was the
"It is Demon Land out there. I swear it."
“Hey, I’m agreeing with you, ‘Lassa. Just said it wasn’t our adoptive brother is all. He died years ago. Years and 25 more years on top of that now. "
"Does that mean Sedon St. Synne's still alive and has his devil ray working again, Davy?"
"How am I supposed to know, Yehudi? As I’m sure you’d be the first to agree, I’m hardly omniscient. Doubt it, though. St. Synne'd be well over a hundred by now. Couldn't possibly be alive."
"What about Strife or the Conqueror? We often speculated she was St. Synne's daughter and Jesus Mandam was as close to a son as he ever came."
"I think not, Johnny. Even your abiding hatred for the Conquering Christ isn't enough to make him live again. As for Strife, who knows?”
“Look at their power, Sundown. Look at how they go at each other.”
“Would if I could, Diver.”
“Ask me we're dealing with the real thing here,” Cerebrus David Ryne again speculated for those remaining to hear. “No unfortunate victim of the devil ray or miracle key these. If such a thing is possible those two are real devils."
"Is it possible?"
"Has to be, Airealist. Extra eyes kind of give it away, wouldn’t you say? Not that it matters. Fact is Demon Land's already called out Obadiah and Gloriel. Pray he has to call out the rest of us before he can best the whirling one."
"Then pray we can best Demon Land."
"As you say, Wilderwitch. Never known you to pray, though."
Antaeor swung his huge, rock club at the whirling devil. Maelstrom flew underneath it casually. Too casually. The ground erupted, soil and stone, dirt and rock shot into him. Swiftly, hardly bruised at all, Maelstrom twirled higher into the sky.
"You're no Master Deva," Devil Wind mocked his foe. "You're nothing more than a shambling, lowly Earth Thing. I'd have more sport with a fucking faerie or an actual demon. At least some of them can fly. Surrender your talisman and slide back into Cathonia. I have pressing business on the Head."
With a flick of his wrist he unleashed a burst of air that struck Antaeor square on the chest. A few pebbles were dislodged. The Man-Mountain bellowed in laughter. "If that's the best you can do, little birdie, you'd better start singing your swan-song."
"I'd rather play yours."
Whirring about the giant like a pestering gnat, he stung Antaeor with eardrum-piercing air drills. Thanatos swatted at him uselessly. The Nucleoid was just too fast. Beneath the monstrosity's knees, Maelstrom summoned a wind blast of hurricane proportions. Antaeor was rocked upwards. With cyclonic fury Maelstrom pressed his advantage, never giving his foe the opportunity to regain balance. Finally, judging the moment right, he conjured a fantastic vortex that uprooted Demon Land and rocketed him into the sky.
Deprived of contact with the ground, he dropped his stalactite club and screamed: "I yield!"
"Too late. I gave you the chance."
"Cruel fucker, isn't he, Diver?"
"Cocky, Dervish. Thinks it's over."
"Can't be. Something just took out Raven."
The Goliath golem blew apart. Maelstrom smiled in grim satisfaction. Even though he was perplexed as to where Demon Land acquired his shell if the cosmicar was as empty as it had seemed to be, his work was done. Then something completely unexpected happened. The stones, pebbles, and dust that had been the Thanatoid coalesced into another being entirely. He caught the unconscious female in his arms before she could fall any farther.
Evidently in her early twenties and dressed in a sheer satin gown, she was beautiful by human standards. Had white skin, two eyes, and remarkably long, remarkably silver-coloured hair. Which was what gave her away. Had to be Castella-Day, didn’t it?
Like all the Thanatoids, Antaeor-Earth's oldest sister by a few years was one of a pair of twins. Her counterpart was Ereba-Night whereas his would have been one of the other three elementals: Air, Fire or Water, -- the remaining four the Byronics dealt with on Sedon’s Peak in ’33 being the Four Seasons. As the epitome of daytime Tvasitar Smithmonger, the devic Smithy, crafted silver hair to be her power focus. When she employed her abilities, Vayu recalled from seeing her in action, howsoever briefly, it turned into all the colours of the rainbow.
The way Maelstrom had it figured was this Castella had merely suppressed her third eye in an effort to fool him. Just to be certain he fully opened his own third eye and bathed her in resultant eyefire; the better to probe her mind. Much to his dismay he quickly discovered she wasn't Castella. Was no devil, fourth generation or otherwise, and did not seem to be a deviant, the offspring of mortals possessed by devils, either. Nor was she deva-possessed; not any more anyhow. Was an ordinary woman. How came she hither?
"So, Thanatoid, this is whom you possessed." He talked to her gently as he lowered himself to the ground. "Slender pickings, this one. Not much more than a strip of a girl. No wonder you fell so easily." Alighting, he vanished his whirlwind. All he wore was a fur loincloth, hardly enough to provide warmth in this desolate place. The girl, in her skimpy gown, was probably halfway to freezing to death already.
As soon as he touched the ground, two rock hands formed out of the earth,
grabbed him by his ankles, and held him fast.
"Knew it wasn't over. But Demon Land's weak compared to this Devil Wind. He's coming for me. Hope he needs the rest of you. See you shortly."
"That'll be the day, Johnny."
"Ever the smart-mouth, aren't you, Diver?"
"Couldn’t resist, Sea Stuff. Besides, Sundown started it. Maybe
twenty-five years in whatever this place is made him sighted again."
Maelstrom dumped the girl unceremoniously on the frozen turf, caused his arms to form wind spouts, and attempted to drill away the rock hands pinning him to the ground. A stalagmite grew out of the earth, gained arms, legs, a head, body, and seven eyes. Demon Land had survived.
"I may be slow, Nucleoid, but what I lack in speed I make up in cunning. I jettisoned one of my shells, the weakest of those I found here. I knew you'd rescue her and have to bring her down. You see, I remember your vulnerability as well as you remembered mine. As long as I hold your feet to the ground, you can't hurt me. But I can kill you!"
"Unlikely!" Maelstrom gave up on the hands pinning him to the ground and brought his arms together. From them jack-hammered bursts of air. Demon Land was blown into smithereens, yet again, but this time the earthen hands held. The monstrosity rose anew and lifted his stalactite club in both brick-body hands to strike off the Nucleoid’s head. Maelstrom ducked, twisted at the waist, and delivered a wind-blast that blew off the Elemental's arms at the elbows. Maelstrom caught the club in a vortex and hurled it into the ocean.
The not-so-much-man as man-shaped mountain barely missed a beat. Suddenly he had four more eyes, bringing his total to eleven. Great slabs of granite formed out the stumps of his arms. He tried to clamp the slabs together, Devil Wind between them, a Samson between the pillars. The Nucleoid spread his arms and resisted. Had to resist. If a single son of Tantal Thanatos, whom ancient Illuminaries had, quite inspirationally, in part named after the Greek God of Death, could beat him, what chance did the rest of his siblings have? What chance did the Whole Earth have?
There were definitely six more Thanatoids who might have been decathonitized, -- not to mention the two who may or may not have got away from the ambush on Sedon's Peak. He redoubled his efforts. The slabs pressed closer. He felt like a mosquito; only this mosquito had more than just the sting of a dying bug. This mosquito had tornadoes coming out of its arms.
Antaeor Thanatos had fifteen eyes now. Then, greedily, he densified and possessed two more. The last may have been a mistake. It had powers this one, mind-over-mind powers. It was telling him to give up. Antaeor blocked it off and went for more. Too late he realized what the last two were, whom they were. He couldn't do it. Not his own ...
Vayu Maelstrom whirled into the sky. He was not going to get caught like that again. Antaeor Thanatos had already blown up and reformed twice during their battle. Perhaps he would do it again; probably wouldn’t, though. Something had happened to the Earth Elemental; something not entirely Devil Wind's doing.
As the dirt and dust settled, Maelstrom realized the sentient fog shrouding the atoll had dissipated. The Island was no longer deserted either. Ten extraordinary-looking beings stood on the ground. One was a raven-headed horse with talarial wings on both sides of all four of her hooves and what might be some sort of unicorn horn that glowed similarly to his topknot telescoping out of her forehead; similarly to the objects two of the others held as well.
No, one wasn't standing. His feet weren't on the ground; he was levitating. It was this one, a hooded man in a monk’s coarse raiment, who spoke. Spoke straight into his mind. "Greetings, Vayu Maelstrom, Devil Wind. I am Cerebrus David Ryne. In honour of both you, devil that you proclaim yourself and devil that you undeniably are, and where we find ourselves, thanks to you wholly ourselves again after a quarter century in Limbo, you may call us:
“THE DAMNATION BRIGADE!”
Maelstrom zoomed higher. Feeling much safer, he opened his third eye and scanned the creatures below. Nothing! They were dead to him. But he had been able to probe the silver-haired woman's memories with ease earlier. Of course then she was unconscious and alone. Now she was on her feet and with nine others.
Either one or more of them was screening her; either that or, now that she was awake, she was doing it herself. Only the hooded monk had demonstrated any out of the human-ordinary abilities but, where he came from, a floating man was hardly extraordinary. Trinondevs of Weir could levitate but they had eye-staves. This fellow kept himself aloft by force of will.
“Hear our story, whirling one," offered Cerebrus. "There is no need for us to be enemies."
"Open your minds to me, mortals. I shall decide that."
"Our minds are our property," disallowed the levitating man. "Let us speak with our voices."
That the one called Cerebrus David Ryne could levitate, the whirling deva had to admit, if only to himself, was mildly curious; all the more so since it appeared his undeniably psychic talents did not come with any noticeable increase in intelligence. Or could it be he didn't know? No point speculating. Opportunity lost forty-seven years ago would not be lost again.
Had he been on the Head it would be simple. Still, as much as he hated this air, there was nothing else for it. 'Look at them,' he mentally transmitted to their apparent leader. 'So startled by their own good fortune. He, the beautiful Adonis with his cloud-white hair, proud jaw, determined stare.'
The devil was referring to Airealist, Aires D’Angelo, who wore the same circus outfit he was wearing when he was thrust into Limbo by Saul “Psycho” Ryne all those years ago. It consisted of a skin-tight, sky-blue acrobat's outfit, folded-flap leather boots, ostentatious gold belt and an even more ostentatious white cape.
'Who does he think he is, my brother in Byron Damon Goldenrod or, as outsiders called him, Phoebus Apollo? And she, this obvious twin of his, every bit his watery counterpart. With her sea shells instead of eyebrows, her braided, foam-white hair, her garlands of seaweeds, her jellyfish membrane of a dress, so brazen in her near-nudity. Don't you realize their skin is almost as blue as the sea, as blue as the sky, as blue as mine?'
Do they know who they are or did the Scarlet Empress's spell of expulsion rob them of their memory as well as their third eyes? No matter. For anyone who had been on Sedon's Peak in 5933 the objects they held were proof of their identities. The omega-shaped Aerod and ankh-like Water Wand with its seaweed etchings, their power focuses, were all he needed to see. They were Twin Thanatoids, -- the other pair of elementals, Air and Water, the ones who vanished through the Wandering SAG Gap in '33.
Not waiting for a response from the levitating monk, Devil Wind hesitated no longer. Held up by his wind spout, he twisted his hands yet again. Dual tornadoes whirled forth, engulfing Aires and Thalassa D’Angelo, Airealist and Sea Goddess. Irresistibly their weapons were whisked out of their hands and into the devil's right one. He rose even higher into the sky, for the first time speaking aloud such that all could hear him. "The deed is done. I have your talismans. You're powerless now. You'll discorporate shortly, become spirit beings again. Then it'll be a simple matter to cathonitize you. Relax, accept your fate. The punishment is painless."
"I have no idea what you're on about," spat Airealist. "But if you think we're powerless without a couple of D'Angelo family heirlooms, you're nuts."
Suddenly, as if charged with lightning, the Aerod electrified. Maelstrom yelped but, rather than just drop them, managed to hurl both objects into the sea. Thalassa, whose name meant ‘Sea’ just as her twin’s meant ‘Air’, dove into the near-freezing ocean after them. Maelstrom, his hand still burning with pain, whirred downwards after her. Gloriella D’Angelo Dark, the one he had first rescued out of the mess he made of Antaeor Thanatos, the one he understandably mistook for Castella-Day, was in the air, flying on rainbow hair.
Gloriel reached her arms towards him. Instantly huge hands made of solid rainbows stretched out of her. She was obviously some kind of materialist, a common enough power amongst Master Devas, which he had already determined she was not. His speed allowed him to whip away evasively, before the hands could close on him. She made no move to follow, content to stay near the surface and ward him from the Elemental Twins.
"They may not be my favourite folks," she shouted. "But they are my adopted brother and sister. You don't attack family. Not around me."
This was getting to be too much for Maelstrom. Decathonitized devils he had been prepared to handle. That was his duty. But almost being humiliated by a pathetic fourth generation pup who had far more raw power than brain power; tangling with two other Thanatos Spawn, ones who did not even realize their devic heritage; and now facing a fourth one, who seemed entirely human yet could fly on rainbow hair; enough was enough. This wretched air; humans with powers that rivalled his own; no, he could not do this alone. He had to get back to the Head.
Whirling southwards at great speed, he went through the Universal Substance between-space to Centauri Island, the launch site of the Cosmic Express, off Maui in the Hawaiian chain of Islands. Now things became trickier. He could not be seen. No non-Head-dweller should learn about the link way.
"I won't tell. Promise."
It was as if a veil had been lifted from his eyes. He was not over Centauri Island. The hooded monk was floating in front of him. He lowered his cowl. The man was not entirely human either. He had a metal plate instead of hair or scalp wired into his skull. A cyborg, a cybernetic organism, possibly a Mantel, this Ryne-son, this latter day Golden Age Horrite as he now realized, was smiling cherubically, unhealthily proud of himself.
The throwback had learned the secret of both Centauri Island and Sedon's Head.
And he had done it by playing Maelstrom for a fool.
Something came out of the sky. It was the horse-thing with a bird's head, the wings of Mercury on the upper parts of its hooves, and a vestigial horn growing out of its head. Had to be a ravendeer, he finally appreciated. But one immediately recognizable as superior to the dwindling herds of the once majestic specie that were still found in the lower Cattail Peninsula.
Riding her was an Irache, a red-skinned warrior whose eyes were covered by some kind of bandanna. He had a spear that glowed not just with Brainrock-Gypsium but with the power of the setting sun itself. He fired. Devil Wind ignited; burned; plummeted downwards.
Toward Damnation Island.
DAMNATION ISLE 2: SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 1980
ADVENT OF THE APOCALYPTICS
Sea Goddess came out of the ocean, standing on a wave she caused to rise herself. In her hands she held both her twin brother’s Aerod and her own Water Wand. Devil Wind, burning away, landed headfirst, with a resounding crash that must have crushed his vertebrae. It certainly snuffed out the blaze cause by Blind Sundown’s Solar Spear; presumably simultaneously snuffed out the devil’s life as well.
The other, mostly earthbound returnees behind him, Wildman Dervish Furie was the first one there. He lifted the smouldering corpse up by its still-glowing topknot. "Doesn't seem to be much left for us lowly types."
"That's twisted, Dervish," the Diver upbraided him. "Even for
you that's twisted. Johnny just killed a sentient being. Call us what you will
but, Damnation Brigade or no, we don't kill."
Yehudi Cohen, to use his given name, was one of five Summoning Children in their number; that is to say, like the wildman, Blind Sundown and the Elemental Twins, he was one of those born some nine months after the Summoning of 1920 ended on that year’s Easter Sunday. He had been with KOC, the King's Own Crimefighters, -- which is what most of them were calling themselves prior to Cerebrus arbitrarily deciding to change their name to the Damnation Brigade about five minutes ago --, and its predecessor group, SOS, the Society of Saints, on and off since shortly after supranormals, or supras, as they commonly thought of themselves, first became active during an Alliance of Man’s Assembly of Man in Rome, Italy, back in January 1938.
He was codenamed the Untouchable Diver not just because its initials sounded like Yehudi. It was also because that was what he could do: alter his bodily constituents such that he could become untouchable and dive into the earth as easily as he could water. Whereupon he could soil-swim as easily as he could dot-ditto. Could also become supra-dense and similarly alter the constituency of anyone with whom he was in direct contact.
From head to toe, except for scarlet goggles and the tar he smeared on his bared facial skin and arms, he wore a wetsuit. Story was if he ever removed it he would atomize on the spot. It was just a story, though. After his encounter with a boulder of Brainrock beneath Hamburg Harbour soon after he returned from Rome, still a Norman Normalman as far as he knew, he had never found a way to remove it.
"You and I don't, Diver," agreed the Jamaica-raised Summoning Child, he whose given name was Jervis Murray but whose codename was Dervish Furie. He said so without a trace of regret. "But Sundown doesn't take prisoners. Rarely has. Mind you I never had a lovely wife, three sons and a freshly born daughter murdered by a succession of maniacs."
Dervish Furie was akin to a werewolf: hairy, bearded, with a slight snout and pointy ears. Action, danger and doing something about it, empowered him. It also made him very dangerous. As his codename suggested he was a whirling dervish who, when he worked himself into a fury, became a virtually unstoppable juggernaut of barely under control ferocity. A hybrid creature, he and his gentlemanly side, Jervis Murray, a black African born to a pair of Godling Guild members nine months after the Guild-specific Summoning of 1920, were not so much mutually exclusive as mutually antagonistic.
Murray always went about in the most expensive clothing he could afford. And the Crimefighters' paymaster, Loxus Abraham Ryne, Cerebrus’s born-with-the-century father, paid very well indeed. Furie took untoward delight in shredding those fancy duds every time he burst into motion. Like the rest of them he was wearing what he had been when they were thrust into Limbo a quarter century ago. Which explained why he was dressed in the tatters of a tuxedo, a pair of oxfords, -- both of which were now minus soles --, and a crumpled top hat.
"Who said the devil's dead, Furie? You don't know what we're dealing with here." Unless it was Witch, Witch Woman or Witchie, the person who spoke was called Wilderwitch, just Wilderwitch. It was neither her given name nor her codename; was just the only appellation she generally acknowledged.
"Oh, come on, Witchie,” the wildman snorted derisively. “Johnny doesn't fry people for sport. He kills them, they stay dead."
Johnny was John Sundown, a once-sighted, now blind, if not exactly sightless, Cheyenne. His mount, his Beauty as he often referred to her, was the hybrid horse Maelstrom recognized as a form of ravendeer, a mutation he believed could only be found on the Headworld. That she had a raven’s head was primarily why she was called Raven's Head. That she was evidently part-unicorn was a revelation to all of them, probably even to Raven herself. None of them had ever seen her with a horn growing out of the centre of her forehead before, but she was sprouting one even as Blind Sundown brought down the Nucleoid with a blast from his Solar Spear.
Vayu Maelstrom, Devil Wind, twitched. As if he was holding a suddenly-come-alive-again snake, Furie released the topknot and leapt backwards. So did Wilderwitch and the Diver. Obadiah Melvin Power or, as they usually referred to him, Old Man Power, OMP, stepped forward. Power was a near-giant, six foot six and almost as broad as he was wide. His horned helmet, with its demonic visage, what he called his Warmask, was strapped to his waistband such that his great Santa Claus beard hung down over his chest. For once not braided, his shaggy salt and pepper hair flowed freely to his shoulder blades.
It was impossible to tell how old he really was and, despite his pinkish skin colouration, impossible to tell where he came from as well. The first time the Society of Saints met him was on August the Sixth, 1945. He and his then mate, Crimson Corona, had just walked out of the A-Bomb blast that levelled Hiroshima but left them unscathed.
Wasting no time he swung his Homeworld Sceptre full-force into the devil. The resultant explosion was titanic. Maelstrom was vaporized on the spot. "I ...," OMP sucked air, "I never hit anyone so hideous-hard. Never dared. Somehow something just came over me. I willed him daredevil-dead." The other thing about Power was he tended to fay-say: speak in alliterations and sometimes nonsensical rhymes.
"Except I'm not dead, deviant." Maelstrom began reforming himself out of the air itself. "You haven't the strength to kill me and your sceptre can't do it just because that’s what you want it to do. Doesn't have the knowledge." The devil was solidifying again. "Your seminal father, even if yours was only his faerie replicate, could never kill us and your possessive, devic half-father wouldn't give you that kind of ability. Not when it would mean giving you the wherewithal to kill him yourself!"
Altogether solid now, Maelstrom snapped his neck and head into normal alignment. "You may be extraordinarily long-lived by human standards but you're mortal, old man. Yes, I know you now, -- even if you do not know yourself. It's the atmosphere out here. It fogs you, fogs me. I am Byronic Nucleoid. I am whirlwind. I am devil. I cannot be killed!"
"Unless you know how." Once again it was Wilderwitch who spoke.
An actual witch, a member of the Antediluvian Sisterhood of Flowery Anthea, there was nothing Halloween Witchie about her. A master illusionist like most Antheans, she could appear to be virtually anyone she pleased. Right now she pleased to appear as she usually did, an exceedingly attractive gypsy type in her late twenties with a mass of unkempt dark hair that could have been home to any number of bugs and bitty beasties.
Indifferent to the climate, she was wearing a fur, belly-baring chemise and a hide skirt, with moccasins on her feet and a leather pouch strapped by a thong to her belt. Ordinarily this lack of clothing would make her even more attractive to any male lucky enough to be in the vicinity. In quieter times she was, in fact, Murray’s, though never Furie’s, lover. Now, though, was not a quieter time. The whirling devil was decidedly unlucky to be in her vicinity.
She materialized a bow and glowing arrow out of her pouch, her bottomless bag. "I may be a life-loving Anthean by both nature and nurture. My flowery sisterhood may have coexisted with your unkind kind since before the Genesea. But, be assured, I’m as much an Athenan War Witch as I am an Ant. I can kill devazurs!"
With unerring accuracy she let fly the arrow. It imbedded in Maelstrom's third eye. Gripping it, trying to yank it out, screeching in agony for his until then immortal life, the devil fell to the ground. In an instant, almost as fast as Furie ever was, she was on him, topknot in one hand, cut-anything hunting knife in the other, poised to slice off his head.
"What good'll that do?" demanded the wildman nervously. "He's been battered, bashed, burned, and blown apart. And, unless that's one of your air-arrows, he's now got a real one stuck in his skull. His blood and brains are pouring out all over his face, yet he's still alive. Cut off his head and he'll probably screw it back on after bowling ten frames with it. If this is the kind of thing we're going to have to deal with these days, I vote we go back into Limbo, -- or wherever the fuck we were."
"Shut up, Furie,” said the Witch, who could scarcely abide her oft-times lover’s supra-side. “The devil knows what I'm talking about, don't you, Maelstrom?"
Vayu rolled his two human eyes inwards and, coming up with no better alternative, blanked out. Wilderwitch let him drop, stuck a foot on his head and pulled out her arrow. As they had all seen her do with her air-arrows, she sniffed the tip then, in a departure from form, wiped it off on the ground instead of licking it dry. Clearly she did not want anything to do with devic blood.
Materializing a quiver full of other arrows onto her back, she slipped the one she used to take down the devil in with its fellows, slung the bow over her shoulder, and sheathed her hunting knife. "I think this one's had it, Metal Mental."
Suppressing a satisfied smile, Cerebrus endured her disrespect and further mind-manipulated her to back off another five yards. "Thank you, Witch. I'll take over from here. Don't want to tempt you overly much." Wilderwitch regarded her nominal leader in mild annoyance. She knew what lay under his muslin robe and monk's hood: an arrogant, brain-damaged twenty-six year old, -- fifty-one year old? --, with a computerized, mostly metallic plate wired into his skull.
Oh, she knew him all right. Better than he knew himself in all probability. Although he did not realize it, and despite the fact she was only two years older than him, she was his aunt. He led them into the disaster of a quarter century ago and, she felt certain, was about to lead them into another one, mere minutes after escaping Limbo.
"I didn't say I was going to kill him, Brain Boy, just that I knew how. Dare compel me one more time and I may take the time to rewire your headplate."
"Apology acknowledged, Witch. Be better you remember my codename’s Cerebrus, not Brain Boy, nor Metal Mental, but now’s no time to quibble. Sundown and Raven aside, we were never regular killers. While I appreciate there have been times when it became unavoidable for some of you to violate our most sacred trust, I see no reason to make our first act outside Limbo, -- for that was where we were, Dervish --, an execution. Now stand clear. I shall end this uneven match mercifully."
He stood over their fallen foe and engaged the devil's thought process. While it was among of the strangest he had ever encountered, certainly among of the strangest he had ever tried to mind-manipulate or brain-boggle, he nevertheless extended the bait of calmness, felt the nibble, and struck. Had him! "Hear me, Devil Wind. We were in your debt. You helped reconstitute our bodies, helped reconnect them with our spirits. We offered you not just gratitude but friendship. Instead you assaulted Sea Goddess and Airealist. Big mistake, that.
“As you are now most painfully aware, to attack one of us is to attack all of us. Consider yourself fortunate only half of us got close enough to tangle with you. Although it amazes me you still live, I'm glad you do. Because you saved our lives, we leave you yours. When you recover, we will be gone. Go to wherever you call home and tell whomever you serve that you have done your duty. You will remember nothing about us. Understood? Nothing!"
Wiping his brow, he stepped away. The Diver came up and, paternally, placed an arm around his shoulder. "Think it worked, Davy?"
"Who knows, UD? Even victims of Strife’s Miracle Key, and from what Magus Maxius told me her father’s devil ray before that, weren't as muddled as this fellow. Only one I ever came across at all like him was Kinsecto. And he was supposed to be an extraterrestrial."
"Bollocks. There’s no such thing as extraterrestrials. If there were, they'd take one look at us humans and go running home to mama. We're a terrifying race, all by ourselves."
"Maybe things have changed in twenty-five years."
"You mean like snakes shedding their skin? Hell, kid, they only get bigger and nastier."
"Goddamn it!" gasped Cerebrus, clutching his skull and falling to his knees. "He's attacking me."
"What's wrong, Diver?" demanded Gloriel, landing beside him. Her hair was no longer the silver it was when Demon Land released her and Devil Wind brought her to ground. Instead it radiated all the colours of the rainbow, which was why she was also known as Rainbow. She could fly on it, which was why she was codenamed Radiant Rider.
At twenty-two, going on forty-seven, Glory of the Angels was the youngest of the newly returned, newly Cerebrus-christened Damnation Brigade. Despite his name, obvious ancestry, and devotion to the state of Israel, which he actually helped to found, she was far more religious than the Diver. Not that she was Jewish of course; quite the opposite in many respects.
Like her adopted siblings, Air and Sea, not surprisingly since Aires and Thalassa were brought up for five years in the same family; like Cerebrus David Ryne and indeed like John Sundown, although you would never know it from his bloody-minded behaviour even before he went on his Vengeance Quest, after his wife and newborn daughter were slaughtered in ’53; she was a Roman Catholic. Despite her modelling background, and the fact she wore a slight, diaphanous gown of her own conjuring whenever she was using her abilities, as far as the others were concerned Gloriel was as bad as her ex-priest of a father in that respect; -- and Raphael D’Angelo was, by almost universal accounting, an excessively ardent, even slavish papist.
Perhaps ironically, therefore, she was whom Cerebrus was primarily referring to when he commented, ever so poignantly, on the unavoidability some of them had when it came violating the most sacred trust supranormals had; namely never to kill. Yet, even if she thought him Lucifer Incarnate, Gloriel had as good as executed Mr Brilliant, hadn’t she? No, not really, she would protest. My Big Angel did that. Doc Dark lived on, albeit as a paraplegic, didn’t he? And, anyhow, I married him. Had his child, she’d further protest, given the opportunity.
Which she never had. Not now. No more so than any of them had had the opportunity
to even catch their breath. And that was not about to change!
"Get out of my way, Rainbow." The Diver, who did not breathe unless he remembered to do so, brushed past her. "Bloody devil's in Cerebrus' mind."
He pounced on Maelstrom, particlyzed his fist, drove it into the devil's head then made it solid. The Nucleoid's skull exploded into bits of blood, brain, and bone. Unlike OMP with his sceptre, but like Sundown with his Solar Spear, what the no-longer-so-untouchable Cohen blew apart never came back together again. Until then never, -- and as yet still hadn’t.
Wilderwitch, perhaps the fastest of the grounded Brigade members save Dervish Furie, acrobatically booted him in the head. "Idiot Diver, that's no way to kill a devil." OMP made to grab her but she whipped around, hunting knife in hand, and slashed open his stomach.
"You cut me," the Santa Claus sputtered in horror. Whilst wearing his regalia, specifically his cloak of many colours, the old man was supposed to be invulnerable.
"So what? You'll heal."
Right hand holding back his insides, Old Man Power used the other one to swing his sceptre at her. She ducked then pranced away, laughing like a maenad. "Not so good on someone who can move, eh?"
Raven's Head flew out of the sky. Blind Sundown leapt off her, but she kept on going. Wilderwitch felt her coming at the last second and somersaulted into the air. Raven caught a piece of her with her horn. Cat-like, -- cats being her least favourite creatures but just one of the many animals whose attributes she could mimic --, the Witch landed on her feet. She hardly noticed the blood spilling from her left side.
Oblivious to the pain, she ripped the bow off her shoulder, pulled out a real arrow, and shouted, "Right, featherbed, you're one horsy that doesn't get the mercy of an air-arrow." Then she shrieked, sprouted another set of arms, and fell on all-sixes.
Furie had already torn off Maelstrom's arms. Was about to bite into the choicest of the two when Blind Sundown incinerated it out of his grasp. Infuriated, with impossible speed, the wildman leapt at Sundown. The Native American might have been sightless but he somehow anticipated him coming. Was just as quick, was the Cheyenne. More! Furie found himself skewered on Johnny's solar spear like a stuck pig.
"Who says your hide's impenetrable, lunatic?"
Dervish Furie’s scouring pad of a moustache shrank in on itself then dissipated altogether, as if he had bitten its bristles off from inside his mouth. Black skull-skin shrivelled; corrupted, blackened all the more; started to rot off and flake what little was left of Jervis Murray’s tuxedo. Barbwire goatee extended, grew coarser, more metallic and grizzled. Wasn’t a straight razor that could cut it. It was hundreds of hair-breadth razors.
His eyes fell out; were caught by his tongue and crunched by his teeth. The newly becoming even more horrible Horror swallowed them. His backbone became akin to a spear’s shaft spiking a decapitated skull; spearhead pierced through the top of it then, like a Mohawk hairstyle, knotty horns propagated, fringing his deadhead fore and aft.
What was no longer Dervish Furie, what was now an Apocalyptic, that of War,
chortled, "Just like old times, eh, Disaster? Except, -- where'd you get
OMP drove the head of his Homeworld Sceptre into the ground. When the smoke and dust settled, Gloriel was screaming, Aires was hugging his sister, and the Diver, reflexively rendering himself untouchable, found himself saying: "Saints, preserve yourselves!"
Their six fellows in the Damnation Brigade had just gone to Hell and come
back as demon-devils: the Primary Apocalyptics, that of War, Death, Disease
and Destruction, and two others, one of whom was nearly mindless and the other
THUS SPAKE XUTHROS HOR
"What's the matter with you, Thanatoid?" The four-armed Medusa who had been the Witch demanded of this last, Demon Land, Antaeor Thanatos, up until seconds ago Obadiah Power. "You were instructed to take over the one called the Diver. We need the Time-Space Displacer’s dullard of a deviant son free to transport us to the Inner Earth."
"I tried," by far the youngest definite devil there rumbled, temblor-grumbled. "But the Diver was denied me. Brainrock protects him."
"Then we'll have to kill him. In fact, we’ll have to kill them all!"
Unlike Demon Land, but like the other four who had either merged with or, more correctly, emerged out of the suddenly possessed members of the Damnation Brigade, Mater Matare, Mother Murder, the lone female Apocalyptic there, was born in the third generation of devazurkind. All those five were therefore Master Devas.
For many multiples of multi-millennia, -- since their procreation, for that was what it was, in the far-off planetary system of Old Weir over a hundred and fifty thousand light years gone now --, Master Devas were spirit beings. Then, some two thousand years after their All-Father, the Moloch Sedon, raised the Sedon Sphere, Cathonia, the Cathonic Zone or Cathonic Dome, out of his own essence in order to protect himself, his descendents and what he, and they, terra-formed into his Headworld from the Great Flood of Genesis, all that changed.
What happened way back when, beginning some four thousand years earlier, was the Lazaremist, Tvasitar Smithmonger, learned how to forge power foci out of what came to be called Gypsium on the Outer Earth. From that point on, what was by now more than six thousand years after devils first fell from the sky, -- came to the then Whole Earth aboard the Sedonshem, rather --, Master Devas no longer needed to possess sentient individuals in order to become solid entities. That was also when they acquired their fabulous attributes, what they manifested through these self-same Brainrock talismans the Devic Smithy made for them.
As they had just demonstrated, becoming solid did not mean they could no longer
possess anyone. Another thing they had in common, besides the fact these five
had been cathonitized, confined, in effect imprisoned within the Sedon Sphere
for something like a hundred and thirty years, was they were the sons and daughters
of the over fifteen hundred years dead, third Great God, Thrygragos Varuna Mithras,
Antaeor’s grandfather, and his grandmothers, the far, far more longer
lost Great Goddesses, the three Trigregos Sisters.
Nothing wrong with that, he supposed, knowing his place, which was firmly grounded to the earth from whence he derived his strength. He was dirt, and mud, and dust, but he was also rock and a Thanatoid both. Surely a degree of gratitude, if not necessarily an acknowledgement of respect, would not have been out place.
He made a mental note to complain to his parents about their attitude once
he returned to Lathakra. King Cold and his Crimson Queen were the Apocalyptics’
elders, were the eldest of all Mithradites, and as such their superiors in every
way. They would make Matare in particular pay for their condescension. Might
ever recathonitize them as punishment.
The Medusa was as fearsome to behold as any of the decathonitized devils. A red-skinned, bare-breasted, four-armed, three-eyed, snake-haired gorgon with serpentine fangs, she had claws on all twenty of her fingertips and ten talons instead of ten toenails. Her only piece of clothing was a pair of printed cloth flaps girdled around her waist. It had a solitary pocket on the front flap and the whole thing Gypsium-glowed like the D’Angelo twins’ Aerod and Aqua Ankh. In each of her hands she held a weapon that similarly glowed, albeit with what devils would call the luminosity of Brainrock. These were a machete, a noose, a harpoon, and a tomahawk. Her breasts and belly were ballooning. She appeared nine-months pregnant.
"Don't be absurd, gorgon," sputtered the male with the spiked deadhead
as he extracted what was no longer John Sundown's Solar Spear out of his gut
and returned it to his still-transforming, but just-become-headless brother
He wore ordinary, unadorned buckskin trousers and black, knee-high boots with spiked toes. The only part on him that glowed was a bandolier with dozens of thick nails sticking out of it. Where his right hand would be was a broadsword. Where his left hand would be was a series of flails. From his voice it was clear he was used to being obeyed.
"The Moloch Sedon forbade we devils killing lesser beings. Bend them to our will, encourage them to worship us or, if all else fails, have our followers do the killing, those were and ever shall be his words. And, unlike yours, his words are our commands. His will is inviolable."
All Master Devas were born in litters of three; were therefore triplets. By contrast the ten known, fourth generation Thanatoids were born in pairs. Bellona was a Primary Apocalyptic. Along with his two breed brothers, Ramazar and Carcinogen, -- respectively the Apocalyptics of Disaster, or Sudden Destruction, and Disease or Plague --, he was born in Mithras' eighth litter. Although she grandiosely accepted the title Goddess of Death, Matare was perhaps not surprisingly only one of many devils so proclaimed. Was, as War had just referred to her, little more than a gorgon; a lowborn mistress of mundane murder, suicide, and other forms of individual violence resulting in death rather than of Death Itself.
There were other Master Devas more deserving of being called Apocalyptics. In fact four of them actually were called thus. Their attributes were Flood, Drought, Pestilence and Famine. These last, the Secondary Apocalyptics, had as much or greater claim to membership in their exclusive club than she did. All were born in earlier litters and, therefore, all could claim seniority, if not superiority, over her.
Flood, Drought and Famine were female but Matare had one thing they never had: a belly full of four, potentially future Apocalyptics. As mother-to-be of their long-hoped-for, fourth generational devic children, her word counted disproportionately highly among the Primary Ones, -- but they could not disobey their All-Father just to adhere to her wishes. That would be a genetic impossibility.
"Who's to say these are lesser creatures?” she countered. “You saw what they did to the Nucleoid and that was before we completely possessed these six. Those four resisted possession. Perhaps that makes them our equals. My sense is Grandfather won't, can't, punish us out here; otherwise we would already be recathonitized. Besides, even if Byronics were the ones who cathonitized us in the first place, we escaped Cathonia and, as such, are no longer bound by Sedon’s dictates. I say kill them."
He who had been Cerebrus reared to his feet, now a creature wrapped like a mummy in horrid, putrescent bandages. In his hands he wielded a snake and skull-engraved pole, a kind of perverse caduceus, with a scalpel-like blade shaped like a sharpened pendulum depending from one end, instead of a pair of wings, and a clear bulb full of bubbling, yellowish liquid at the other end. What pinkish, perhaps flayed skin could be seen through his bandages was festering, crawling with maggots and leeches.
This was Plague, whom Illuminaries of yore, demonstrating a sly wit, had named Carcinogen the Leper. Howsoever he was called, he was the Apocalyptic of Disease. "Do not tempt Fate, any of them, Murder Mistress. And especially do not tempt the Moloch Sedon. He has been out here a fair bit; at least once a human generation, you might recall. Even though he finally lost patience with the Pauper Priestess and cathonitized her a last time, in 5950, after she led an invasion force against his Weirdom and, therefore against his Utopian father, Grandfather can come in and out of the Cathonic Dome at will.
“By contrast, we have rarely ventured beyond the Dome. If we violate his dictates, if we consequently annoy him sufficiently, he may come after us. Besides, as I just said, this is not our home turf. Whatever manner of mortals these four be, it is theirs. You're too fragile to fight. And we will fight, kill if need be, only to protect you.”
"Oh, I don't know, Leper. I rather fancy their heads." This last came from Disaster, the Headless Apocalyptic of Sudden Destruction antique, much-travelled Illuminaries of Weir, for reasons far more obscure than why they named Disease Carcinogen, War Mars Bellona or Mother Murder Mater Matare, identified as Ramazar. Might have had something to do with the ancient Hindu epic known as the Ramayana; then again it might not.
The fourth Apocalyptic was dressed entirely in black: waistcoat, creased pants, shirt, string-tie, and boots. In his left hand he held what used to be Sundown’s Solar Spear; what had now transformed into a luminescent, double-barrelled, flintlock shotgun: his power focus. In his right he held the reins to a thoroughly fantastical living gargoyle that until recently had been Raven's Head.
The grotesquery was an excessively oversized, two-headed, double-necked vulture who had two bodies joined at their midsections by some sort of fused wing, -- as if it was once two beasts united by inner wings that grew together. Both of its heads had three eyes and it appeared more draconic than avian. All in all it stretched at least ten feet long. Its two outer wings were folded in at its sides but were proportionately as huge as the rest of its monstrous being. It scrunched down and allowed the headless Apocalyptic to step onto its backs. Clearly this Ramazar rode the thing standing up.
"Your haberdashery eccentricities are of no interest to us, Disaster,” Matare complained. “Although I must admit it is good to see you and the Vultyrie again."
"As it is you and your fat belly, little sister. You two as well, litter brothers. Lose the sword and whips, War. This is the Sixtieth Century."
"As you wish." The Apocalyptic of War changed the sword into a cannon-barrel and the flails into a Gatlin gun. "What about your flintlock? Something like that hasn't been used since the Fifty-Eighth Century."
"Call me a traditionalist but I always preferred the highwayman image."
Bellona smirked as best a lipless, skin-rotting skull could smirk. "I suppose 'Stand and deliver' is a lot more personal than 'Run and die', or whatever you used to say to a bunch of poor schmucks just before you unleashed your landfalls, firestorms, and such like."
"At least what I unleash is natural. People don't die in disasters unless they happen to get in the way. I've never yet heard of a natural let alone a deathless war, War."
If there were any dispassionate observers in the vicinity they might wonder
how this fourth one, the one who had been John Sundown, the one who had no head
at all, could see let alone speak. There weren’t of course. Air, Sea,
the Rainbow and the Diver were too busy being terrified to waste time wondering
about such a trivial matter.
Carcinogen turned to the four members of the Damnation Brigade huddling together on some rocks at the far end of the beach. "Forgive our manners, humans, if that's what you are. But it's been something like a hundred and thirty odd years since we were last whole. As you can appreciate, we've a lot to talk about."
"You're not whole," challenged Gloriel. "You're horrible. Demons from Hell!"
Plague laughed in mild amusement. "Beauty, my beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Our father thought we were quite charming, especially when we, through our acolytes, brought retribution to those who dared displease him. Mind you, I'm sure his opinion changed when we wrought revenge on him for being so manipulative, so unresponsive to our needs.
“Ah, but that was a long time ago, fifteen hundred years and more now. So, what do you think? Our sister in Mithras wants us to kill you. Disaster fancies your heads, which amounts to much the same thing. War figures you should bow down and worship us. The Vultyrie's too stupid to think, let alone voice an opinion, and me, well, I'm easy. For all I care, you can go your way and we'll go ours."
"What have you done to our friends?" demanded the Diver, without a hint of humour.
"Thought that was obvious. We possessed them. In our condition we didn't have much choice in the matter. Decathonitized devils, which is what we are, need shells to survive. Don't have to keep them, though. Once we find whatever passes for civilization out here there'll be plenty of others to possess."
"Maybe there's some common ocean here," offered Sea Goddess, attempting in his stead to pull a Diver and make light of an extremely serious situation. "You agree to release our comrades, we'll take you to Alaska, Siberia, or BC. There, as you say, you can have your pick of shells."
"Didn't you hear him, Thalassa?" Gloriel was disgusted at her adoptive sister's suggestion. "Shells are human beings!"
"Don't nitpick, Rider," cautioned the codenamed, yet perhaps actual Sea Goddess. "What's the alternative?"
"Fight them," argued her twin brother, with his usual bravado. "They said it themselves. This is our turf, not theirs."
"Fight us and we'll kill you," threatened Matare, sounding a little like a record skipping.
"More to the point," noted Carcinogen calmly, "Force us to fight and we'll just use up our shells, your friends, all the quicker. Then we'd be forced to possess you; though, there being four of you and six of us, things might get a crib crowded."
"We can always dump the Vultyrie and the Thanatos Spawn," suggested Bellona helpfully.
“Air’s right, Sea,” determined the Diver. “No good ever comes of dealing with devils," he announced, at least partially reverting to verbal form. “While there are times I’d rather switch than fight, right now I’d rather switch and fight.” That said he reverted yet again to his physically untouchable form and plunged into the ground.
Taking his cue, Gloriel launched herself into the sky. Shaking loose from his sister's grasp, Airealist hooked his omega-shaped Aerod into the air, like an unsupported trapeze, flipped onto it and flipped away from it. He vanished, turning himself entirely into his element, then it, his Aerod, vanished, -- only to reappear twenty feet higher and much larger. Whereupon Aires manifested himself standing on its prongs. Another ocean wave rose up, wrapped itself like a shawl around Thalassa, and somehow stayed there, cycling its droplets circularly.
"Let's make it fast," she shouted.
"Oh, goody. They're going to be sporting." Headless Ramazar jerked the Vultyrie's reins. The bird-thing spread its massive wings and made to take off.
"Not that fast." The Diver leapt out of the ground directly behind Mater Matare. "And not necessarily." Fists balled, he flexed to departiclyze them and prepared to drive them into Matare's stomach. "Trouble with minions of evil is you always motor-mouth. Been clear to me all along your Mother Murder's pregnant and you Daddy Devils want her blasted babies.
“Myself, I figure you can, let’s get this right, recathonitize yourselves and try again another day. Either that or I do the blasting right now to mommy's tummy. Whereupon we’ll find out if me-blasted babies have the wherewithal to re-form like Maelstrom didn’t after I did a ditto to his head not so long ago. Your play."
As dusk turned to darkness, Gloriel's rainbow hair provided most of the light as she radiated nervously above Damnation Island. Airealist remained motionless, as if rooted to his Aerod in the sky not far below her. Thalassa too, waves rising about her protectively, was not about to make any sudden moves. It was not that she was holding back so much as she was listening to an otherwise unheard voice.
The double-headed, dual-bodied Vultyrie flapped its wings sullenly but ceased contemplating taking off. Astride her Ramazar fingered the hammers of his flintlock. If he had a head he would be looking directly at the Diver and Mater Matare. Mars Bellona was behind the Diver. If he had eyes, not that he needed them, he would be waiting for the Leper's signal. The Thanatoid, Demon Land, was even closer to the Diver and Matare than War was. He too, Antaeor Thanatos, was listening to an unheard voice, -- only his was Carcinogen's.
'Can you do it?'
'I think so.'
'Your call, sister in Mithras, greatest of the Great Gods. Is it worth the risk to you, yours and ours?'
'What other choice do we have, brother in Trigregos, three-as-one?'
"You win, Diver," the Leper said aloud. "Seals and whales will probably make just as good shells as you so-called supras anyhow."
Cerebrus David Ryne collapsed, Carcinogen no more. The others reverted. OMP was the last and the most convulsive. As if in a fit, he shook the mask off his belt, dropped his sceptre, and ripped off his cloak. Wilderwitch, -- like the others, not that she had on as much as the others, the clothing she had been wearing as miraculously restored as her physical self --, moved to calm him. As she did so she unbuckled his baldric and sword. Gloriel radiated to the ground and allowed herself to become solid again. Doing the same thing, Airealist tumbled after her. Furie embraced the Diver; Johnny stroked Raven's feathered mane.
"It's a trick!" screamed Thalassa, hearing the voice unheard by the others.
Point blank, Mars Bellona shot a fiery cannonball at the Diver. Carcinogen sliced into Gloriel D'Angelo. Not wishing to damage Aires' precious head, Ramazar aimed for his heart and pulled his flintlock-focus’s trigger. The Vultyrie unfurled its wings and squawked triumphantly. Perhaps devils could kill lesser beings after all. Then again, as Matare had already posited, perhaps the Brigade members were not lesser beings.
Sea’s scream came in time. The Diver had already made himself untouchable such that Bellona's fireball passed harmlessly through him. Once again he dove into the ground. Next time he came up, he came out going for Matare. By then, though, Antaeor had used his matter-transforming attributes to shield her inside a casing of rock-hard, Brainrock-impervious Solidium. One repelled the other. Then War fired again. Fired Stopstone bullets!
Ramazar fired something more appropriate: shrunken, blazing skulls. Except he missed. His own slingshot, Airealist tossed himself back into the sky. An air-acrobat, he never descended. Every time he seemed to reach apogee, seemed destined to fall, his Aerod appeared beneath him, gave him purchase on the atmosphere itself, and he flung himself higher yet.
"A chase!" Ramazar snapped his mount airborne. "The Vultyrie and I love chases."
Gloriel pulled a Diver; make that a Terrible Twin, shifted states and once again attained an essentially non-corporeal radiance. The Leper's scalpel-like pendulum blade never touched her. Nonetheless, she sensed more so than felt it. Contact, such as it was, such as it was not, was enough to panic her. She lost her cool, streaked away. All she could think of was to get as far away from Damnation Island as quickly as she possibly could.
In this form she felt desperately confident, no one had ever been faster. Except the Leper, as she almost instantaneously apprehended. He had had his eye on her from the beginning, followed her seemingly by willpower alone. Using his corrupted caduceus to slash through Shadowland, he kept appearing in front of her, standing on the air itself.
"Let me be," Glory of the Angels repeated every time he appeared before her. "I can move like light but I can't think like light."
Carcinogen could care less how fast she retreated. He just kept moving in tune
with her thoughts, kept appearing before her, kept taunting her. Until, playing
on her guilt for abandoning her fellows, he drove her back to Damnation Island.
Her scream had been in time. In time to warn twin brother Aires; in time to prod him into getting a move on. So, yes, it had been in time. But, she considered, it would not be in time for long. Thalassa steeled herself. She would have to act herself.
"Do it now," urged the voice she alone could hear.
"I can't. I haven't the power."
"You do and you will. Do as I say or it will be too late!"
A minute is such a short period of time. The same minute experienced by every creature throughout the cosmos may total a near-infinite multitude of minutes, but it is still exactly sixty seconds. That minute decided Thalassa. She prayed she had not waited too long. Prayed not to the Roman Catholic Omnipotence to whom she had been brought up to pray, however.
Prayed instead exactly as instructed.
“Solidium,’ the Diver muttered to himself within that minute. 'If Spikes had been a better shot, they wouldn't have to change my gravestone. For all anyone would have known I might as well have died in '55. Wish I had, in some respects. Then I wouldn’t have wasted twenty-five years in Limbo waiting for it to happen for real.'
The stone Solidium-Stopstone stopped was Brainrock. Touchable or untouchable, Solidium was the one material that could negate the abilities the Diver acquired in ’38, when his entire being was suffused with what folks who were aware of the Godstuff began calling Gypsium some ten years thereafter. Fortunately the Solidium bullet Bellona shot at him only nicked his right shoulder. He had gone deep beneath the hard earth immediately thereafter, confident even an armour-piercing bullet made of the stuff could not penetrate that far underground. The safest thing to do was soil-swim away but he could not abandon the rest of the Brigade. Not to these demon-devils.
Long ago he realized he did not have to breathe in any normal sense. He did so out of habit more so than necessity. Nonetheless, if he was going any great distance in a medium other than air, he still found it inexplicably comforting to have air tanks on his back. Of course he could particlyze tanks as easily he could anything else with which he was in direct contact and, with his crimson goggles, he could also see through almost anything, often at great distance. All in all then he was quite the impressive supra. Sooth said, if it was not for Solidium, he would be nearly unstoppable.
So how had Demon Land and Mars Bellona discovered his weakness? Answer, not that it mattered, had to be they got the information out of their shells.
The Diver had been wearing rubber flippers when he was infused with Gypsium
eighteen, make that forty-three, years ago. Ordinarily he kept them retracted,
and intangible, but he found them useful when, in his particlyzed form, he was
propelling himself through whatever he was propelling himself through. Which
he figured was anything he damn well wanted to propel himself through: molten
lava, solid ground, the ocean, the sky, perhaps even outer space, -- although
he had never had the opportunity to try this last.
Although he had apparently destroyed Maelstrom, he could not be certain he would be as successful against Demon Land and the Apocalyptics, all the more so since they now knew about his vulnerability to Solidium. Also, how could he be sure, -- say, he pulled the same stunt on this Mars Bellona --, whether or not Furie would survive? Not that that mattered overly much either. Even killing his comrades was preferable to letting these devils loose on the rest of the world.
Looking up through the ground, he spotted Bellona immediately above. 'Lord Above!', he cursed carefully, 'Can the Apocalyptic see me?'
He did not wait to find out.
In that same minute Radiant Rider gave up trying to flee.
Her powers were as awesome as they were awe-inspiring. She knew that but, after what she did to her brutal lover, Mr Brilliant, back in February of '53, she had never again dared loose them full-force on a fellow being. Of course she had not meant to wipe him out of existence. Had certainly not meant to harm Doc Dark. All she wanted to do was get Lucifer-Brilliant to leave her alone: Be gone Satan and all that tommyrot. Her powers, as if they had a mind of their own, had simply taken over from there.
The only way to get Brilliant to leave her alone was to abolish him, as Wilderwitch termed it, and that was what they, her powers, not her, had done. At least so she always claimed. The Witch had scorned her unmercifully for that attitude, offering to take over her rainbow if Gloriel could not be bothered to learn how to use it properly. Now was the time to prove she was worthy of God's gift to her.
She stopped radiating, staying airborne by virtue of her miraculous hair. From her face she projected myriad 'little angels', -- dozens of disembodied eyes propelled by iridescent butterfly wings. Standing in the sky, Carcinogen was obviously shocked but did not falter. Using his pendulum scalpel he cleaved great gashes in the air itself. Most of the little angels were sucked through them to who knew where, perhaps even out of existence, but one stayed clear. It rammed into the Master Deva. That physical contact was all she needed. She transformed the little angel into a bola that wrapped around the Leper's neck.
Gloriel thought the Apocalyptic as Satanic as she thought Brilliant Lucifer; thought him akin to the Serpent of the Garden that had so thoroughly corrupted Eve she stained mankind with her sin forevermore. The first woman should have just stomped on its head, crushed it into the ground, -- its body into dust. Eve had not done that, perhaps had not been able to do so, but Gloriel could and would. She tightened the bola. Carcinogen's third eye blazed forth. Eyefire engulfed Radiant Rider, assailed her mind, scorched her soul. He had her.
Just then the ground exploded. To one side and high above it, the Leper was distracted not in the slightest. "Be an angel and release me," he gasped. She dispelled the bola. "Now let's get something solid beneath our feet. Come, join me."
Both of them alighted some distance from where Bellona had come up firing at the Diver. Still holding her unwaveringly in his eye fire, he approached her. "On your knees, pretty thing. Bow down. Supplicate yourself." Having no will of her own, she did as bade. He stroked her cheek. The stench of his body, the sliminess of his touch, revolted her, but she could no more break away from his glare than she could vomit.
He lifted her chin and smiled through his bandages. "Your skin is so clean, so soft, so delicate to the touch. You must be very proud of your beauty." Gloriel was paralytic, but there was something almost alluring in his voice. "It will give me the greatest of pleasures to befoul it!"
Carcinogen raised the bulb end of his power focus and smashed it in her face. It must have been some sort of plague pod; whatever it contained akin to sulphuric acid, -- corroding, burning, besmirching her ideal countenance. The Leper released her from his eyefire and began laughing so hard he started coughing up blood.
Gloriel crawled away, her shrieks of agony turning to whimpers. "Help
me, Thalassa," she begged. "Do something!"
Bellona felt the earth give way beneath him and was suddenly dropping as if through a well, -- only it was untouchable ground. He must have fallen twenty-five feet before it solidified, burying him alive. The Diver surfaced, retracting his flippers as he did so. Demon Land was still shielding Mater Matare. Gloriel was up in the sky battling Carcinogen who, it seemed, could walk on air. Headless Ramazar, astride the Vultyrie, was firing what looked like blazing skulls at Airealist.
Aires was dipping and doodling, -- appearing then disappearing on his Aerod and completely baffling the devils. Thalassa was still on the rocks, her ocean waves girding as well as guarding her. She was holding her Water Wand in both hands and her lips were moving. What was she doing? Praying? That wouldn't be any more like her than the Ant. What else? Casting a spell? He hoped so. Thalassa could witch water like Wilderwitch could all five of your senses.
Suddenly a huge plug of earth, six feet in diameter and twenty feet long, rocketed
into the sky. The Apocalyptic of War was out, fighting mad and shooting Solidium
bullet-pellets out of the Gatlin gun that was his right hand.
Ramazar and the Vultyrie had been directly above the rocket wedge of earth that Bellona hurtled into the sky. He reined her away; not in time. The wedge took off the Vultyrie's right wing; sending them both pin-wheeling uncontrollably towards the ground; causing him to lose lost his grip on her reins and his flintlock focus. Aires plummeted after them, only at the last second notching his Aerod into the sky.
The impact of the devils hitting the earth left a crater in which their bodies, fractured and pulped, twitched as if in the rattle of death. Aires doubted they were finished. Maelstrom had survived just such a drop and a lot worse thereafter. His atmospheric powers, particularly lightning generated through his Aerod, were sufficient to destroy most anything.
He decided to immolate them. Too late he heard the click of two hammers cracking.
The spirit of Ramazar was behind him, triggering both barrels of his flintlock
"LET THE SKIES BURST FORTH. LET THE MATCHLESS FURY OF THE OCEAN WAVES
RISE UP. FLOOD OVER THIS ACCURSED ISLE. WASH THE EARTH CLEAN OF THESE EVIL CREATURES!"
The sky darkened, instantaneously blocking out the newly risen moon and dim stars. Lightning crackled. Thunder resounded. Cyclonic winds yowled. Torrential rains poured forth. Thalassa became as one with the ocean. A massive tsunami overflowed Damnation Island. The devils, the remains of Cosmicar Four, the remains of Vayu Maelstrom, huge boulders, Gloriel, the Diver, her twin brother, all and nearly everything else were swept into the raging Pacific. The waters foamed and churned. Her powers were terrible to behold, -- especially to herself.
"Stop trying to kill me," Aires shrieked into her psyche.
"Cease this tumult, Goddess," compelled Cerebrus telepathically.
"You've done it. The Apocalyptics are no more. But you're drowning us!"
Hers were the words of Xuthros Hor, -- he whom Xuthrodism was named after; he who was the tenth and last Patriarch of Golden Age Humankind; he who was none other than the Biblical Noah; he from whom the Rynes claimed a direct descent, which was why Maelstrom came to conceive of Cerebrus as a Horrite.
Hers were the words Hor used when he called down the Great Flood of Genesis to cover the Earth and vanquish the godless spawn of the Demon Sedon nearly six thousand years earlier. Hers was a magic so powerful it not only rid Damnation Isle of the Apocalyptics and their allies, not only freed her fellows from their unclean possession, but cleansed Gloriel, the Diver and Airealist of the wounds they had just sustained at the hands of those selfsame creatures of unmitigated evil.
She washed them ashore. Washed herself ashore as well. Wildman Dervish Furie reverted to his generally benign, wholly human state, Gentleman Jervis Murray, the man Wilderwitch often professed to love. They embraced quietly. So did Gloriel D’Angelo Dark and Obadiah Power. They had never been the best of friends, far from it at times, yet, suddenly, they seemed just that, -- the best of the best.
Yehudi Cohen, the Untouchable Diver, rendered himself very much touchable and put his arm around Cerebrus’s shoulder. Only eight years separated them but the Diver had always been a better father-figure to David Ryne than Loxus Abraham Ryne ever was a father. Blind Sundown and Raven's Head went off on their own. Raven's horn had diminished to the point of being only a tiny knob but it was still there, -- still where it had never been before Damnation Island.
Aires came up to her. Her twin had a reputation as a heartless womanizer. The only one he ever truly loved, besides himself, was her. Still, emotion, as opposed to practised passion, was alien to him. Thalassa fell to her knees and began to cry uncontrollably.
He did not know what to do, so he knelt in front of his sister and put both his hands on her shoulders. Weeping, she hugged him so tightly he thought she was going to snap his back. He latched onto her just as tightly. Together they rocked and swayed and cried away each other's tears and fears. When they were calm, or close enough, she asked him how he felt.
"Great," he said with his customary bluster. "First bath I've
had in a quarter century." She laughed and hugged him again. They helped
each other stand.
"I thought I'd lost you. Thought I'd waited too long. A devil, -- must have been Maelstrom I suppose, though the voice sounded almost womanly --, was in my head. Told me what to do but I hesitated. Thought it must be a trick. Didn't think I had the strength or ability. Then I saw Ramazar's ghost raise his rifle behind your back. I ..., I think I would've let the others die, even Davy. But you ..., I couldn't live without you."
"Couldn't live without me either."
"God, you are a prick."
"It's my most endearing trait."
- Forever & 40 Days - Feeling Theocidal - The War of the Apocalyptics - The Death's Head Hellion - Contagion Collectors - Janna Fangfingers - Goddess Gambit - The Damnation Brigade - Nuclear Dragons - Cataclysm Catalyst - Launch 1980 - Helios on the Moon -
- double-click to enlarge images in a separate window -
1990 Graphic Novel
Genesis of the PHANTACEA Mythos; dedicated webpage is here
2008 Full Length Novel
Book One in the Thrice-Cursed Godly Glories trilogy; also available in a variety of e-book formats; dedicated webpage is here
2009 Full Length Novel
Opening entry in the Launch 1980 story cycle; also available in a variety of e-book formats; dedicated webpage is here
Commences "The 1000 Days of Disbelief", Book Two in the Thrice-Cursed Godly Glories trilogy; also available in a variety of e-book formats; dedicated website is here
Continues "The 1000 Days of Disbelief", Book Two in the Thrice-Cursed Godly Glories trilogy; also available in a variety of e-book formats; dedicated website is here
Concludes "The 1000 Days of Disbelief", Book Two in the Thrice-Cursed Godly Glories trilogy; doubles as the prequel to the Launch 1980 story cycle; also available in a variety of e-book formats; dedicated website is here
2012 Full Length Novel
Book Three in the Thrice-Cursed Godly Glories trilogy; eventually meshes with the Launch 1980 story cycle; also available in a variety of e-book formats; dedicated webpage is here
120 page Graphic Novel
2013 Full Length Novel
The for sure second, full length entry in the Launch 1980 story cycle, cover art by Ian Bateson; recounts, in four parts, the actual launch of the Cosmic Express and the immediate ramifications of its apparent destruction particularly on its launch site, the Outer Earth's Centauri Island; dedicated webpage is here
Phantacea Revisited 2: Cataclysm Catalyst
96 page Graphic Novel
Trilogy completed in 2014; Phantacea Mythos story cycle novelizing the Phantacea comic book series
Helios on the Moon
2014 Full Length Novel
The climactic, full length entry in the Launch 1980 story cycle, cover art by Ricardo Sandoval; the Dual Entities have been back in their own timeline for a few years now; they're trying to change things for the better; how often does that work out; dedicated webpage is here
Interactive PDFs of some of the Phantacea Mythos books and graphic novels released by Phantacea Publications are available for downloading from One Book Shelf and its frontline ordering sites: Drive Through Fiction and Drive Through Comics
Alternative Ordering Information for PHANTACEA Mythos mosaic novels
Downloadable order form for additional PHANTACEA Mythos Print Publications
Current Web-Publisher's Commentary
Jim McPherson's Worldwide Email Address -- email@example.com
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