This post was updated on .
“You banished me … for awhile. I’m ba-a-a-ack.”
The voice was a haunting, disembodied and eerie echo.
“Did you hear that,” Duncan asked. “Did you hear that voice, Fiona?”
“Uh … no,” his wife said. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“I’ve heard that voice before. Colorado,” Duncan muttered softly.
“Colorado? I thought that was behind us.”
The phone rang, and Fiona grabbed it. “Hello.”
Duncan could hear the muffled voice on the other end, but couldn’t understand what was being said.
“Yes. Yes, I understand. (pause) Yes.”
As she set the phone down, Fiona’s fair skin took on an even paler hue, as her eyes opened wider and she looked disbelievingly at her husband.
“Duncan, that was BADGE. It … it seems the demon has returned. You’re to go to Bennett to meet up with Infinite Tempest and Arcane Ace. Doctor Richey called BADGE, and asked for assistance. Astra’s in Tokyo. I’ve been summoned to New Amsterdam. The demon is holding the entire region hostage, and demands you, IT and Ace come and surrender to it, or it will execute people every hour, starting at noon tomorrow, unless the three of you turn yourselves over to it. Nova wants you to deal with it. What are you going to do?”
Duncan stood, heaved a sigh and said, “I’m going to Bennett ... and hope that Tempest and Ace meet me there. If they can’t get there, I’ll do what I can. I’ve got to do what I can to save those folks.”
Duncan headed to his temporary quarters at the headquarters construction site and shortly emerged in full gear.
“Fiona, contact StarMaster, Silver Paladin, any other members of Star Force not currently engaged on other assignments, and tell them where Tempest and I are headed. As if there isn’t enough going on with Tokyo, Iceland and everywhere else, now this,” Duncan – now Highlander – said. “Sun’s going out, all hell breaking loose, let’s hope we can resolve this quickly. I hope the three of us can handle this. I hope IT and Ace are available.”
H stopped at the door and returned to kiss Fiona. “I’ll be back.”
“You’d better be back, big fella. Be safe.”
As the big Scotsman headed out to one of the Star Force flyers, Fiona said a quick silent prayer.
“Please be safe. Godspeed, Duncan.”
Highlander probably didn’t break any airspeed records on his way to Colorado, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. He pushed the little flyer for everything it had on the way. He was determined that no innocent would die if he had anything to say.
The flyer had sufficient maneuverability to enable him to take it right to Doctor Richey’s office and the doctor was outside of the building before the big man could shut down the propulsion system.
“Thank God you’re here,” Doc Richey exclaimed. “We’ve had three people killed today, one of them incinerated as I spoke to her. It’s really awful. We need help.”
“I’ll give you as much help as I can provide,” Highlander said as he tried to calm the doctor. “Has either Tempest or Ace arrived?”
“No, you’re the first person we’ve seen,” Richey said. “Everyone’s in a panic. People are trying to leave the area, but can’t. I’m surprised you were able to get in, but obviously, it wants you here. The governor called the National Guard, but they can’t get in, and neither can the state patrol.”
Highlander frowned. “Yes, it seems that this demon wants the three of us. I don’t understand why it’s ignoring Astra and Fiona, but concentrating on the three of us. Fiona has reached out to the members of my league for backup, and we’re hoping Tempest and Ace can get here soon.”
Doc Richey swallowed hard and looked up at the big Scotsman. “What if they can’t get here?”
“If need be, Doctor,” Highlander said. “I’ll have to confront the demon alone.”
“Can you stop it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I can,” Highlander admitted. “If I can’t …”
“You are immortal, right?”
“That’s what I’ve been told,” the big man said. “If I’m not, you’ll have another body to add to your count. I hope that’s not the case.”
Fiona made contact with the agent she had been referred to in New Amsterdam, and after being briefed on her assignment, came to the conclusion that she was brought in to do a job that any non-super intern could have handled with ease. Such a routine assignment would have normally been given to a non-field agent in a clerical classification.
It begged the question: Why had she been sent here?
She may not have been a great deal of help to Highlander and the team in battling the demon in Colorado, particularly if it was as powerful as Arcane Ace said it was in the debriefing of the original mission.
She handled her assignment in an afternoon, meeting with low-level administrators in the police department and fire service, and transmitting the data to BADGE headquarters. After she had finished, she set the flyer on a direct course to BADGE station, determined to get information.
After wading through some perfunctory red tape and leaning hard on a couple of station agents, she managed to make contact with someone near the top.
She had heard of Gar, but she was seeing him – or it, she wasn’t sure – for the first time, and he was certainly intimidating. She wanted to know why she was sent on a routine fact-finding junket, clearly below her abilities, while her husband had been dispatched to Colorado on a demon-fighting mission with Tempest and Ace when clearly she would have been better able to provide aid there as opposed to the mundane assignment in New Amsterdam.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Gar said. “There’s no evidence that a team was dispatched to Colorado, nor is there record of a request for assistance from anyone in that area.”
“But, I took the call myself,” she told Gar. “Highlander was requested to proceed and rendezvous with Infinite Tempest and Arcane Ace to battle the demon they faced during the first encounter.”
“According to BADGE protocols, we would have summoned the entire team,” Gar said. “That would have meant the three of them, plus you and Astra, if I recall the debriefings.”
Wide-eyed, Fiona inquired, “What are you saying?”
“What I’m saying is I think Highlander’s been lured into a trap,” Gar said. “The demon is probably luring them in one at a time. That could account for the fact we haven’t heard from either Tempest or Ace for some time.”
Fiona called back over her shoulder as she raced from the room, “I’m headed to Colorado. Please send help!”
This post was updated on .
Highlander headed into the woods outside Bennett, Colorado. From any point in the area, one could see the apparent blackened area - center of supernatural tribulation, whatever one would wish to call it - that was clearly unnatural. The big man didn’t know if the demon was there, but it made sense as a place to begin his search.
The closer he got to the area, the more the temperature dropped. It wasn’t uncomfortable - yet. It could be eventually, but it also provided impetus to complete the task as quickly as possible. He stopped short of a small rise in a clearing where a creature of some sort awaited him. The form was familiar, but he couldn't place a name with it – at first. It growled at him and rose to its full height. Then, the name occurred to him.
Manticore. Ugly beastie, it was.
A low, unearthly chuckle emanated from the maw of the beast.
“You seek my master, hooman?”
“Probably. I imagine I have to go through you to find him, her, it – whatever your “master” may be, am I right?”
Another voice chimed in, “Kill it here. Good eating, not?”
Manticore responded, “A lot of meat, no doubt.”
A smaller figure dropped down from a nearby tree. Monkey-like, it sprouted wings similar to those of a bat, and was wearing a talisman around its neck, clearly made from a human hand.
Monkey said, “ I want a wing.”
Manticore answered, “ Hoomans don’t have wings, fool.”
“Some do, some do. I have eaten them.”
“Normal hoomans don’t have wings. The one we ate was what we call a cape,” Manticore said. “She was supposed to be a superhero.”
Monkey said, “She died easy. Maybe he will too.”
Highlander chimed in, “I have no intention of dying – at all.”
“I thinks he may be harder to kill,” said Manticore. “If you’d like to take a chance at the hooman, go ahead. I’ll help if you need me. Just save the legs for me.”
Monkey rose to its feet and Highlander saw it to be slightly shorter than he was, but very muscular. A small gorilla, maybe?
“You are mine,” Monkey said, as it charged at the Scotsman.
Highlander stood his ground and braced himself, meeting the charge head on. As contact neared, Highlander stepped forward, meeting the onslaught with his full force. Monkey staggered back a step from the collision and found Highlander’s left hand at its throat. The Scotsman’s right hand clutched his opponent’s midsection and found purchase, lifting the beast overhead and hurling it against the trunk of the tree from which it came. The beast reeled from the impact and as it bounced off the trunk, Highlander grabbed a leg and swung it around, bashing its head against an outcrop of rock, shattering its skull and killing it instantly.
“Are you next?”
Highlander pointed at the manticore as he posed the query.
A man stepped up beside Highlander. Tall, masked, wearing a long blue cape, and a bright silver-blue star on his chest.
"Starmaster," Highlander said. "You got my message."
"I did." Starmaster raised a hand at the Manticore. A bright blue light surrounded the multi-beast and as Starmaster raised his hand higher, the creature lifted into the air, despite being dozens of feet away from either of them. "This escapee from Purgatory Penitentiary giving you a hard time?"
"Not really. It was going to take me to its leader, if it knows what's good for it." Highlander crossed his arms and smiled to the captive monster. "Right?"
The Manticore roared and struggled to break Starmaster's telekinetic grip. It fought hard enough that both members of the Star Force league could hear its own bones snapping with the effort. "My master will find you soon enough. I no take you to him. He comes here for you. After he finishes with the others."
"What others?" Starmaster asked.
The Manticore only gave a toothy smile as its response.
"I have ways to find out what's in your head, beast," Starmaster brought Manticore closer.
"I hope they involve cracking it open and digging them out with a dull spoon!" Highlander said. "Does your master have Ace or I.T?"
"Wouldn't you like to kn--," Manticore began but quickly ceased talking as Starmaster telepathically dove into its mind.
"Why do I always feel like I'm in a cesspool when I do this with you, Manticore? I might need to develop the equivalent of mental breath-mints for when I have to do this next time." Starmaster lowered Manticore to the ground after several seconds, releasing him from his psionic grasp. "He doesn't know. His master told him that he had prisoners without revealing their identities. I think his boss expected someone to attempt to read its trash-heap of a mind. Astra is gifted with mental powers, isn't she?"
"Yes. And Fionna is as well." Highlander walked over to the Manticore's body. "Will it wake up?"
"Eventually. The question is where is this master of its? We need to find it before it hurts anyone. Or does worse."
This post was updated on .
Just as Highlander did before her, Fiona pushed the flyer for all it was worth en route to Colorado. Psychically, she reached out to the big Scotsman to let him know she was on her way.
He felt no response and could not sense his presence, which was disturbing. Her psychic powers were formidable, and coupled with her intimate link to her husband, should have enabled her to easily make contact even if they were over a hemisphere apart. The instruments in the flyer indicated the coordinates of Bennett, Colorado were a mere 75 miles away, dead ahead of her flyer. She could eventually see the area, but suddenly, it disappeared, and the instruments indicated it was behind her position. Fiona swung the flyer about and headed back along her course.
Again, she could see the small town in front of her, when suddenly it pulled another disappearing act. The phenomena repeated itself several times, and she realized some barrier of unknown composition was preventing her from reaching her destination. She reached deep within herself, tapping her psychic powers to remain calm and not panic.
If Highlander had reached Bennett, the barrier could be responsible for blocking her contact with her husband. She reached out to to Astra, but the contact was faint, and insufficient for communication.
Starmaster was a psychic, and a league mate of Highlander. She reached out to him, but she could sense nothing. No luck contacting either Infinite Tempest or Arcane Ace. She reached out to Gar, but found nothing. The Barrier must be a powerful dampening field.
Now, even her psychic strength was was wavering. Panic was setting in. She landed the flyer some 100 miles from Bennett and put her full concentration into reaching out psychically to any mind that could sense, the effort was taking a toll, her head was hurting and her overall strength was wavering. She dropped to her knees beside the flyer and strained with the effort.
Fiona couldn’t tell if she was reaching anyone. She was so engrossed in her effort that she was unaware of the otherworldly creature stalking her, now only about 50 yards away.
Danger was at hand, and the heroine was unaware.
"Thanks for coming to get me, Tempest," Arcane Ace said while being carried in Infinite Tempest's arms. "I didn't expect that you meant it this literally, though."
"I said I was going to pick you up," Infinite Tempest said as they sped through the open sky.
"I thought you meant in a shuttle or something."
"Catalyst is working on our mass transit vehicle. Or at least he says it 'is on his list'." I.T.'s outstretched fingers formed the air quotes, jostling Arcane Ace as he was cradled for the transport to Colorado.
"Next on my list is a trenchcoat of flight."
The two of them together soared to the west, the light growing slowly dim as the sun set ahead of them on the horizon.
"Why do you think the Torment came back?" I.T. asked. "Is it that vengeful?"
"It mostly likely didn't," Arcane Ace replied. "It and the other spirits only found their way here because some kids opened a door for them. Either something else summoned it back here or we are being played for fools."
Arcane Ace: ID 23078
If Highlander had been aware of the danger facing Fiona, he would have left the scene in a flash, bidding Starmaster a quick farewell and heading to his wife’s side.
But he didn’t know, so he and Starmaster soldiered on, unaware they were headed into a trap – or at least a confrontation for which they weren’t quite prepared.
Proceeding on meant leaving the clearing and heading deeper in the woods, deeper also into the darkness that enveloped the sylvan surroundings.
“So tell me, Highlander,” Starmaster said. “What kind of demon are we facing?”
“I don’t know for sure. Arcane Ace would know; he was more familiar with it than I. I wish he was here, we could use his sight for this.”
“Starmaster nodded and said softly, “Stay alert. Not only do we not know what we’re looking for, we don’t know what it is that we’re looking for looks like. (Pause) Did that make sense?”
“Believe it or not; it makes as much sense as anything else that’s happening nowadays.”
Fiona slumped against the side of the flyer as the stress of trying to make contact with anyone began to overwhelm her. She inhaled sharply, then froze as she sensed the life form a short distance away.
Her eyes widened as she saw the … indescribable horror approaching her. She slid toward the back of the flyer, seeking some shelter and again shot out a psychic probe. This time she found a contact.
[Fiona, is that you? Where are you?]
[Ace? ACE?!? HELP ME!! I’ll maintain contact. Follow my thoughts! I need help! Something’s coming for me!]
Infinite Tempest bolted forward, lightning flashes sparking in his wake as he raced to Fiona's position. His passenger, Arcane Ace held himself tightly bundled in his long jacket to fight off the bracing air they sped through.
"The flyer she used is straight ahead." I.T. said. He surged faster to the ground than at any time previous in their journey, nearly breaking Ace's neck as they crashed to the ground behind the monstrosity approaching Highlander's wife. "Leave her be, beast. We are ready to face you."
"Speak for yourself, Tempest." Arcane Ace mumbled under his attempt to regain his breath.
The horror before them didn't belong in this reality. Resembling a child's toy, it hovered in the air with long, tentacles or filaments of gelatinous slime dangling in infinite quantities around its exterior. The tentaments?? ended in either a sharp talon or an eyeball, and the two organelles seemed to shift between the form of one or the other. Overall, it was the ultimate jello-mold gone wrong. It didn't turn to face them as much as reformed itself to observe their approach.
"Where in the seventeen realms did you spawn from?" Arcane Ace snarled. He brought his hands up into the air and shifted his fingering to manipulate his magical energies into action. A lavender light flared up around the floating blob and pulled it toward the ground.
Several tentaments lowered and merged, becoming legs to support the creature and it hobbled forward. The eye-tentacles stretched outward and blinked rapidly with gelatinous lids.
Suddenly Ace and I.T. were driven backward by a powerful force.
"What is it doing?" I.T. asked.
"It's altering reality, twisting natural law to serve its will somehow?" Arcane Ace gestured a new pattern and a cube of magical force surrounded him and Infinite Tempest, cutting off the pressure shoving them backwards. "I could feel the shredding of the universe we know as it attacked us."
Ace, Infinite Tempest, I'm so glad you are here. Fiona mentally shouted into their minds.
Whatever it is, it doesn't seem to have a mind like anything I've ever encountered before. It acts without thought, purely reactive instinct.
"Where are you?" Ace asked out loud, assuming she would hear his thoughts as he uttered them.
Behind the flyer. Don't let it touch you. Look at the ground beneath it.
The two heroes stared at the mossy earth below the creature where the newly formed tentacles touched. As if burning, but without any sign of flame, ashes wafted into the air and dispersed. A limb touched a rock and a similar effect took place.
"It's disintegrating whatever it is it touches. It must be stopped." Summoning the elements around him, Tempest summoned a jet stream of arctic air from above and drove it into the creature's body.
The blob's exterior layer glazed over with ice until it flared red and became alight with flames.
Arcane Ace: ID 23078
“Am I ever glad to see you gentlemen,” Fiona exclaimed. “I couldn’t affect that … whatever it was … at all. I thought I had sufficient psychic abilities to at least defend my self, but now I’m not even sure of that.”
Infinite Tempest paused long enough to cast a careful look at the smoldering pile of whatever it was before speaking,” Are you all right?”
“A bit shaken, but I’ll be fine,” Fiona said breathlessly.
Arcane Ace observed, “That was one ugly sucker. It looked like a Gragglebrack, but I can’t be absolutely positive. Gragglebracks are fairly mindless, so there’s that. Where’s Highlander?”
“He’s in there, I think,” said Fiona gesturing toward the wooded area to their west. “I can’t make contact with anyone … or anything, for that matter, so I’m not absolutely certain where he is.”
“That should be the general location of the town of Bennett,” Infinite Tempest said. “That’s where we were supposed to go. I can sense a wall of resistance, for lack of a better term. Do you agree, Ace?”
Ace answered flippantly, “Yessiree. I’d definitely call it … well, something like that.”
“Can you tell what it is exactly,” Fiona wondered.
"It’s magical, I can tell you that much,” Ace responded. “And Highlander is in there. I can see that. He’s also not alone, but I can’t positively identify who’s with him. It does appear that whoever it is is with him, Highlander appears to be aware of the entity and is traveling with it. So, someone was able to penetrate the barrier. We should be able to get in, also. I’ll probe for an area of weakness, and if I find one and further identify the barrier and weakness, I think among the three of us, we can channel the appropriate forces necessary to gain entrance. Just watch my back while I investigate.”
Ace began an enchantment, alternately whispering and shouting incantations, gesturing with arcane signs and eventually pausing.
“I thought so. Whatever constructed this barrier seriously over estimated its own abilities, or ... underestimated mine,” Ace grinned. “I can set up a counter spell right here, and reinforced by Tempest’s electrical powers and your psychic abilities, it should breach the barrier. But be careful – there’s serious danger just on the other side. Ready?”
Fiona said with a determined glare, "Let’s do it, Ace.”
Fiona braced herself and Tempest powered up his charges.
“Hold on to your butts. Here we go,” Ace said as he extended his arms before him and began to conjure.
The darkness deepened and the temperature dropped a few more degrees as Highlander and Starmaster headed further into the woods.
“Do you think Tempest and Ace got here before you?” asked Starmaster.
“Doctor Richey said I was the first he saw. We were supposed to connect with him when we got here, so unless this thing intercepted them before they found Richey, I’d say they’re not here. Besides, I think those two are too good for both of them to be caught unaware. I don’t think they’re here, but I hope they are on their way,” Highlander said.
"Fiona, try to contact your husband," Arcane Ace asked. He held his hand outstretched to a blurring haze at the edge of a forest, his fingers worked intricate patterns in the air. "I believe I've pierced the veil enveloping them."
Next to him, Fiona and Infinite Tempest stood and worked their own powers in conjunction with Ace. Infinite Tempest charged the atmosphere with an electrical field, making the air smell just as it would before a lightning strike. Fiona breathed in and out with a slowed meditative regularity as she added her psionic energies to the area.
Husband, can you hear me. We're trying to reach you. Please, let me know if you are alright.She called out with her mind to her mate, their strong bond carrying it to the man she loved with all her heart.
"I think we will be able to make a gap large enough for us to enter in a few minutes." Ace continued. "The magic used to create this is strong but foreign to the area around us. Something is projecting it from within."
"So we should be ready for more fighting?" Infinite Tempest asked.
Fiona smirked, waiting for a response. "That isn't anything new for you boys, now is it?"
Highlander stopped walking for an instant as a memory triggered. A simple fragrance. The fresh smell of soap after a shower as he buried his nose in his wife's long hair. Fiona?
Yes. Oh, my love. I've been so worried. Are you well?Her mental voice sounded in his head.
"We're both fine." Highlander knew that she would hear what he said aloud through their mental link. "I'm here with Starmaster. He came in Infinite Tempest's stead until we heard from him. Have you seen him or Ace yet?"
They are both here with me. There is a barrier keeping us from joining you. Ace thinks he can create an opening so we can join you.
"Fiona, keep watch for adversaries. It seems as if we are facing some escapees from Purgatory Penitentiary as minions for whatever has caused the trouble here." Starmaster said.
"Did you get that, darling?" Highlander asked.
Yes. We encountered something like the Gragglebrack from Dimension Z not long ago.
"She says they encountered--" Highlander began.
"I've tuned in. I can hear her on the Mindscape." Starmaster tapped his temple. "Dimension Z. I hope that Dr. Fulcrum isn't behind this."
Ace says he is through. Should we join you?
"I think that would be a good idea. We could..."Starmaster paused. "We will definitely need your help. We've got dinosaurs."
Ahead of Starmaster and Highlander, three Tyrannosaurus Rex monstrosities broke through trees and limbs, drooling at what they considered to be tasty appetizers.
Arcane Ace: ID 23078
Tyrannosaurs three. It was not an attractive thing to confront for the heroes.
The trio of Tempest, Ace and Fiona hustled through the underbrush to join with Starmaster and Highlander.
The three dinos moved on the two Star Force league members who were at more of a disadvantage than just being outnumbered. Unlike many other champions, Highlander was limited when it came to fighting over a distance, except when he could hurl objects. He had no projecting powers..
Starmaster channeled his powers toward the large reptiles. The T-Rexes has assumed an attack posture with the one in the middle some 20-30 feet of the other two. Highlander looked around and said to Starmaster, “Concentrate on the one in the middle. I see an opportunity.”
The big Scotsman, somewhat slow and lumbering from the perspective of humans/metahumans, was more like an annoying bee compared to the dinosaurs. The big man had spotted something among the fallen trees and other debris he thought he could use, and took off in that direction just as the newly-arrived heroes came out a clump of trees.
He reached the trunk of a fallen and shattered tree, and although it was large, his strength was sufficient to lift it it. He snapped off some loose pieces at the one end and transformed the broken trunk into a spear. He charged toward the monster closest to him, and with a powerful thrust, rammed the point into the soft underbelly of the beast, right between the legs. It took a couple of seconds for the pain of the attack to reach the beast’s brain, but when it did, the beast roared and straightened up. The movement turned it slightly toward Highlander and the big man wrapped his huge arms around the leg in front of him and adding his shoulder to the attack, lifted the beast enough to put it off balance. Driving with his legs, Highlander pushed the monster into the other dinosaur on the far side. The collision startled the second dino and combined with scent of blood, the monster reacted instinctively, clamping its massive jaws down on its partner’s head. The commotion drew the attention of the lead dinosaur, but didn’t distract from his quest to attack Starmaster, now standing with the other three heroes. Highlander wrenched to tree trunk from the first dinosaur and thrust the pointed end through the eye and into the small brain of the second T-Rex.
Ace threw up a quick barrier to protect them and gasped as he looked at the monster.
As the beast’s eyes began to glow, Ace yelled, “Hey, boys and girls, this isn’t your garden variety brand of dinosaur!”
Starmaster and Fiona added their powers to reinforce Ace’s shield as Infinite Tempest took to the air to counterattack. He was about 100 feet in the air when the dinosaur looked at him and beans of energy shot from its eyes, knocking I.T. from the air and into the canopy of trees. Dazed, but not knocked from the fight, Tempest pushed aside the branches and fired a high-powered electrical charge at the beast, dis orienting it temporarily. Still aware of its surroundings, the beast sensed an attack coming from the rear from Highlander, and answered it with a quick and powerful lash of its tail, powerful enough to send the Scotsman airborne and into the trees, out of sight.
A second blast from Tempest drove the remaining dino back and the two dead dinosaurs behind it served to bring the beast down. The fall separated the head from the body of the beast and the head continued to operate the jaws, while the eyes flicked and discharged blasts sporadically, damaging surrounding trees. The legs on the body continued to churn as it tried to raise itself and one leg connected with a small boulder, kicking it in Ace’s direction. A psychic blast from Fiona diverted the object.
“I … I didn’t know I could do that,” Fiona said in wonder. “I … just reacted.”
Breathing a sigh of relief, Ace said, “I’m glad you could, missy. Thanks.”
The quartet began a search for Highlander, only to be stopped by a cold and disembodied voice.
[You won’t find him. He’s in my possession now. One down, three to go. Arcane Ace and Infinite Tempest are next, then I’ll hunt down Astra. Revenge will be mine for what you did to my brother. He wasn’t much; thought he could pose as a backwoods sheriff to satisfy his lust for fear. He so wanted to prove himself; now he’s gone. Soon, you will be also. Starmaster, Fiona, you have a chance to save yourself. Leave before I change my mind.]
"You're brother paid the price for what he did here. Release Highlander or you will be dealt with as easily as he was!" Tempest called out.
Try as hard as you might, but you will only fail.
"Who are you?" Starmaster called out. After receiving no answer, he stood still and opened his mind to the astral plane, what he called the mindscape. Suddenly, he cried out in pain and dropped to his knees. "Too much. It's overwhelming... me."
"Starmaster, what's going on?" Fiona stepped closer to him and began to open her mind to his, searching for answers.
"No, don't... It..." Starmaster stood up and faced Infinite Tempest. "You. This is all your fault."
"What?" The Infinite Tempest gave his league leader a confused stare. "What are you talking about?"
Starmaster summoned his psionic blade, a glowing blue shaft of pure mental energy. He then teleported behind I.T. and drove the blade into his chest.
"AAAGGGGHHH," The Infinite Tempest cried out in pain. No blood or gore splattered from where his body had been punctured. The mental blade caused pain, not physical damage, as it caused its targets nervous system to overload as every nerve surged with energy.
"What are you doing to him?" Arcane Ace wove his hands and created a shield around himself.
"The same thing I will do to you if you don't cease your magical manipulations." Starmaster pulled the shaft out if I.T.'s body, letting it collapse to the forest floor. "Drop the shield before I drop you!"
Fiona could sense with her abilities that Starmaster had become possessed by a mind other than his own. His entire aura shifted to a blazing red hue. As a psionicist, she knew whatever overtook his mind had to be extremely powerful. A frightful thought presented itself to her. "I know who you are now."
Starmaster turned to her, ignoring Arcane Ace. "And who might that be?"
"The other spirit that came to this world. Highlander told me it was Torment. Since you are after only those who defeated your brother, that could only make you Revenge." Fiona stood tall, certain she was correct, but terrified at the same time. Torment sought to torture and lavished itself in causing pain and distress. Revenge seemed only interested in harming those who caused its brother to be defeated. Revenge typically only ended in one way. Death.
"Perceptive." Starmaster bowed. "And now that I have the instrument to deliver my wrath on these three, I will begin with the one I already have as my prisoner. Hahahaha."
Leaving only maniacal laughter in the air behind it, Revenge and its new host body teleported away.
Arcane Ace: ID 23078
Astra heard a psychic scream from Starmaster. "What is going on?" she asked aloud. She was currently fighting a giant fire breathing lizard. Not really much of a challenge to her mental might. She quickly defeated the monster before trying to contact Fiona.
"Fiona, I could barely feel you earlier. What is happening? Why did Starmaster scream?" She telepathically asked. She guessed she was out of range as she received no response.
She decided to teleport back. This would take a while. Why couldn't she master ESP like her adoptive mother Futurina. Then she wouldn't have to see where she was teleporting to because she would know where she could safely teleport.
She suddenly hit a barrier. Something or someone did not want her there. "Hey, I live in Colorado. Why are you preventing me from going home?" She asked.
"YOU ARE NOT GOING HOME!" a disembodied voice boomed in her mind. "YOU ARE TRYING TO HELP YOUR FRIENDS!"
"Of course I am, they're my friends," she replied. "Why stop me? Why are you afraid of me?"
"I AM NOT AFRAID!" the voice corrected. "I WANT YOU ALONE! YOU WILL DIE ALONE!"
"That's not very nice to say," Astra reprimanded. "I will help my friends. No one can stop me." She pulled out a red crystal in her right hand. She concentrated and a red blade of pure psionic energy appeared in her hand. She began to wail on the barrier.
"This isn't good. Not good at all," Ace said as he paced the ground beside Fiona as she checked on Infinite Tempest.
Starmaster's mental energy cascaded through the large, blue-skinned hero. Fiona pursed her lips, concentrating on trying to stabilize her friend and rouse him from the fugue state the attack left him in. "Lingering like this isn't normal. Not for my powers, at least. The energy from his attack should have diminished by now, but they're maintaining. I'm afraid if we can't get it to stop, his nervous system might be permanently damaged."
"How is that possible?" Ace asked.
"I wish I knew. Ouch." She pulled her hand back as one of Infinite Tempest electrical discharges struck her. "Does he always spark like that?"
"He's a living battery. I hear they won't let him anywhere their computer lab in the Star Force Observatory."
"Yes." Fiona backed away from Infinite Tempest. "Highlander told me about that. His powers surged and fried the entire mainframe just before League Wars. Catalyst even lost control of his prosthetic hearing device because of it. Don't tell anyone, but Highlander told me that watching Catalyst signing his curse words was one of the funniest things he had seen in a long time. Some of the gestures were fairly graphic." Despite the situation, Fiona chuckled as she pictured the typically calm scientist going ballistic.
Arcane Ace shrugged. "One of those 'had to be there moments, I'm sure." He pulled out a vial from one of his coat pockets and began to pour out a fine white powder around the three of them. "Don't cross this. I'm going to place a protective barrier around us until we figure out what to do."
Starmaster found himself bound by red ribbons of energy in the Mindscape. Understanding this was simply his interpretation of what was going on, not actual bonds, he ignored the restraints and searched the area around him. A bright red light shone close to him, surrounded by a hazy image of his own body.
He remembered seeking out a consciousness out on the Mindscape after Highlander disappeared. What he mentally found was primal and slipped into his own mind, forcing his conscious control of his own body.
"For a hero, you certainly have created a wonderful home for me to inhabit. You have a wonderful desire to summon me that you should be tapping into. Why haven't you called on me before?" The red light asked.
"What are you talking about?"
"This recent encounter you had against Skelanimal and Krampus. They made you feel weak and foolish. You want so badly to find them and make them pay for what they did. I love this. You are the perfect vessel for me."
"You can't restrain me forever. I'll break free of you and get you out of my body."
"Oh, no you won't. Not anytime soon. And if you do, not in time to save your companions." The red light flared brightly. Starmaster could sense the being's eagerness. "Not until Highlander has paid. I know of one who has a unique drive to rain hell down onto him."
Arcane Ace: ID 23078
This post was updated on .
Highlander regained some of his sense and cautiously looked around him. He came to the conclusion he was inside a clear cylindrical cell. Looking up, he determined the cylinder was too high for even a near seven-footer like him to reach without assistance. He shifted position slightly and grimaced in pain.
He had suffered injuries throughout his long life; enough that he could recognize the pain of broken bones. The pain caused him to inhale sharply, which only made things more painful. He could recall broken ribs suffered sometime during the Bronze age, if his memory served him correctly. He pressed his right arm to his body to ease the pain and came to the conclusion his right forearm was probably broken also. The combined pain nearly brought tears to his eyes, something he had not experience for centuries. He closed his eyes and breathed slowly for several moments until the pain subsided somewhat.
Great. One good arm, and injured ribs. Even if the cylinder holding him was thin and breakable, it was likely he wouldn’t be able to break out – for the moment. After several moments, he opened his eyes and searched the area outside his cylinder. The bottom portion of the cylinder was somewhat frosted, so he would to rise a bit to see the surroundings outside. With several grimaces, a few moans and groans, and utterances of several words of which Fiona would not approve, he managed to press his back to the cylinder and with his legs and left arm pushed himself up to a crouching position. Good. He could see outside the cylinder.
Straight ahead, he could see a form – a winged form. Bat-like wings meant it was probably not a friend. A generalization, certainly, but likely accurate. To his right, he could see Starmaster, facing a wall, and not moving.
[Ah. You’re conscious. Good. I dislike killing life forms who aren’t able to react and scream in agony as I do so. I will eliminate you first. I was growing impatient, as I so wanted to accomplish my tasks, and get out of this disgustingly pain and worry free realm.]
It issued a hideous chuckle that chilled even Highlander to the bone, a considerable feat given all the Scotsman had seen and endured through the eons.
“Who – or what – are you,” Highlander asked.
[I’m something best experienced after time has passed. More elapsed time would have made it sweeter, but I have things to do in other realms, so I thought I’d address the simplest task first. I’m hoping you die, but not too quickly, as it would ruin my enjoyment.]
It moved closer to Highlander and a smoky tendril passed against, then through, the cylinder, touching Highlander’s chest.
[How does this feel?]
A sharp pain coursed through Highlander’s huge frame, so strong that his form thrashed about against the cylinder’s wall.
[Still standing. Hmmm. I think you will not be the first to die. You may provide more enjoyment than I imagined. Perhaps, you are truly immortal. This should be most enjoyable.]
“If you’re not going to kill me right now, how are you going to amuse yourself?”
[I can kill Tempest first. That’s not ideal, because I don’t torture my prey, and if he dies too quickly, I may get bored. I won’t kill Starmaster, I’m going to use him to kill Astra, and maybe Fiona, since she seems unwilling to desert you.]
“Leave her out of this! She had nothing to do with what happened to your brother."
[Then she should have kept her $&%$#^&* nose out of it. She didn’t, so she can suffer.]
Angered, Highlander forgot his pains and threw himself against the cylinder. It didn’t break, but for a moment, Highlander thought he did as he slumped back to the bottom of the cylinders.
The demon cackled – hideously.
Fiona was troubled. She was comforted by the fact that Ace and Tempest were with her, though.
“Ace, where do we go from here.” she asked.
“I’m open to suggestions; first we need to get Sparky back on his feet and in fighting trim. Then, the three of us will do some formulatin’, missy.”
Fiona nodded, “I’m worried. I love my husband dearly, but I fear he tends to rely too much on his immortality at the expense of common sense. Who in their right mind would decide to go toe-to-toe with a forty-ton meat eater, using a tree trunk as a weapon?”
Ace chuckled, “I think you answered your own question there, lady. Your husband would; he doesn’t consider the danger. He did the same thing at the courthouse when we were here last time. You know the saying ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread’? Well, that’s the big guy. I once heard of a hero referred to as ‘the man without fear.’ That’s Highlander. He has no regard for his own safety or well-being. He is fun to watch, though.”
Fiona smiled and bit her lip.
“He really trusts you and I.T., Ace,” she offered.
“Yeah … well .. once you’ve gone through what we did here last time, you learn to trust people you’re with. I don’t agree with a lot he does, or says, or thinks … [pause] … but I’ll stand with him and Tempest anytime. They’ll have your back … every time.”
“Where do you think he and Starmaster were taken?”
“No problem there. My arcane sight can follow that trail. I’m good at that. Besides, Revenge ain’t hiding his tracks. He wants us to come to him.”
Ace looked around and said to Fiona, “Reach out to Astra again. And also, anyone else you can find. There’s strength in numbers, and we need as much strength as we can muster for an attack where we’re going.”
"I think I have an idea for helping Tempest, but I don't think you are going to like it." Ace said to Fiona.
"Shoot," Fiona said. "I'm doing my best to help him, but I don't think I'm helping him much."
Arcane Ace waved his hand and a metal rod appeared in it. "I think he needs to be grounded."
Fiona raised her eyebrow to Ace. "Excuse me?"
"I.T. here is constantly creating electrical discharges. It grounds to the ground typically, but we've all gotten a jolt or two from him. Could that constant charge be feeding the mental energy and keeping it active?"
"Of course. Chemical changes in the body force messages to travel through the nervous system. His own natural charge can't compensate for what Starmaster's attack did to him." Fiona smacked her hands together, grateful for an actable solution.
Arcane Ace: ID 23078
Arcane Ace began to minister to Infinite Tempest, who was beginning to stir, but appeared far from recovery. Fiona focused her psychic powers in an attempt to make firmer contact with Astra and any other heroes.
There was contact, but not with Astra – nor any other heroes.
The disembodied and cold psychic voice belonging to the demon called Revenge sounded.
[It appears I was misled. Sad to say, it appears that the claim to immortality of the man called Highlander was just that, my dear Fiona. A claim. I’m sure you’ll miss him. Now, Arcane Ace, I am getting bored. I order you and Infinite Tempest to proceed directly to me. My vengeance is needed to assuage my desire for revenge upon you and your kind. Rest in peace, Highlander. You were almost a worthy opponent.]
A hideous cackle followed the psychic pronouncement as Fiona dropped to her knee, horror stricken.
“No. No,” the red-haired lass whispered as she buried her face in the grass.
Ace stood starting into the distance, stunned.
"Fiona," Ace said, "it has to be lying. There's no way Highlander would go down without us hearing something."
"Nooooooooo!" Fiona brought up her head and shrieked. "I'm going to find you and kill you myself."
[Be my guest.]
"FIONA!" Ace shouted. "Don't play into its trap." He saw with his Arcane Sight that her quest for blood, for revenge at the thought of her husband's death, brought motes of red energy off from her to float away. Float away in on direction.
"What is happening?" Infinite Tempest said from the ground. He lifted up into the air and righted himself to stand. "I feel like I've been struck by a very large airplane."
"The spirit said that it has killed Highlander and set Fiona off." Ace moved over to Fiona and slapped her hard against her cheek. "It wants you thirsting for revenge. It's feeding off of your desire for it."
Fiona turned and stared at Ace. "Highlander called out for you to help him. You left him here alone for too long. If you had come when he first asked, he'd still be alive."
[Maybe I don't need you to come to me after all. I'm already there with you. Hehehehehe" The psychic voice ceased speaking in the air around them and instead came from within Fiona. "You're going to need to kill her before she kills both of you. Can you do that to this grieving woman?? Take her life because she has given herself to me?"
Arcane Ace: ID 23078
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