Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Ten.

When I was a kid I wasn’t just afraid of the dark, I was terrified of it, to the point of paralysis even.

One night, as I lay shivering in my bed, my jaw aching from grinding my still-developing teeth into dust, my bedroom door opened slowly and a massive figure stood in the half-light for a moment before entering. My grandfather didn’t switch on the light, he simply burned through a few minutes of precious time watching my eyes dart between him, the closet, and the floor in front of my bed. Then he pulled up a chair, sat beside me… and stared.

(As you may imagine, that didn’t calm me down in the least, but I wasn’t about to argue with a hulking Polish immigrant who worked as a bouncer in the toughest dive bar in St. Catharines.)

An eternity passed before my grandfather finally shattered the silence with all the grace of the proverbial hopped-up bull in the world’s unluckiest china shop.

“There is nothing to fear in the shadows. All things have a purpose, a role to play… even those that dwell in the dark.”

My grandfather was incredibly, almost inexplicably, well-read, but that statement still seemed highly suspicious to me, so I dug deep and found the courage to speak at last.

“Even the monsters?” I squeaked.

“Especially them,” he replied. Then he spoke the words that would dictate the course of my life from that point on. “How would you recognize good without evil? And never forget, mój słodki chłopcze, those you call ‘monsters’ are just creatures who cannot resist the darkness that lives in all of us.”

“So I shouldn’t be afraid of them?”

“Oh no, your fear should never be denied! It’s been put there to make you faster, stronger, and so determined to live that you fight harder than you ever would without it. Good must always stand against evil, that is the only way the Balance survives.”

“What is the Balance, Dziadek?”

“It is the reason the world as you know it exists. God created the Balance to ensure neither good nor evil rises above the other.”

(You just know I had to ask, right?)

“What would happen if they did, Dziadek?”

“It would be the end… of everything.”

“So since we’re good… we have to always fight evil?”

It was clear he had enough of them, but my grandfather considered my question nevertheless, as though he knew the answer would open a door that could never be closed. And then the night got even stranger.

“Who said we were good, chłopak?”

“You mean we’re evil?” I said in a gasping voice as my eyes grew five times larger.

My grandfather rarely laughed

(especially while sober)

but he chuckled while giving me one last answer. “We are not evil, mój kumpel… nor are we good. No… we are something else entirely.”

giphy

The memory of that night is never far from the surface of my troubled mind, and the same could be said of William Nemesis – especially as he and his newly-acquired “allies” stood outside the Film Center Building, also known as 630 Ninth Avenue, a 13-story office building on the east side of Ninth Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets in New York’s appropriately named Hell’s Kitchen.

An NYC landmark, the Film Center Building was a rectangular structure largely made of brown brick, with windows on all sides. although the ground story had a marble façade, and the second story had a white-stone façade. The main entrance on Ninth Avenue led to a rectangular vestibule, which in turn led to the lobby.

“My friends are being held in Hell’s Kitchen?” Golden Lad had to express his disbelief out loud. He couldn’t believe this possibility never occurred to him before. His hands were clenched so hard blood seeped out between the folds. After decades of assuming they were as dead as disco he finally had a chance to free his comrades – and the source of his power, the Heart of Gold, was nearly inert.

“It gets stranger, Tommy,” I put a hand on his vibrating shoulder, knowing full well a comforting touch from the man who turned his world upside-down wasn’t going to make a bit of difference… but I figured it couldn’t hurt. “Wait ’til you see where we have to go to get to them. I hope you have a sweet tooth.”

“Why do men always talk so much in this day and age?” Madame Strange questioned as she waved a hand in front of the Film Center’s doors, reducing them to H2O. Her far-from-subtle hocus-pocus had already dispersed the crowd that followed us from the Empire, removing the possibility of collateral damage and proving there was a source of compassion beneath that frigid exterior.

But her patience wasn’t wearing thin at this point, it had snapped.

The group made their way through the main lobby, an elevator lobby, and a passageway leading to a series of secondary entrances. The lobby’s walls and ceilings resembled tapestries. The Center’s stair risers, ventilation grilles, directory signs, and elevator doors were designed in a multicolored scheme. The upper stories contained offices, which were initially used largely by major film companies. Now they sat empty, as did the rest of the building, though the Center still housed nearly 100 film vaults, all of which had been converted to hold various treasures seized by this world’s conquerors.

“This place is empty,” Tommy remarked, his voice echoing through the 13-storey structure.

“Your grasp of the obvious is most impressive, Golden Lad,” the Madame countered, her haunting eyes focused forward at all times. “The enemy knows we are coming, Nemesis. How will your scheme deal with that?”

“Unclench… both of you,” he responded, trying to sound as commanding as possible as they stood before the most popular confectionary retailer in this metropolis. “We have a few moments. And besides, we’re here.”

Sadly, William’s attempt at reigning in his band of heroic malcontents was far from up to snuff. Strange remained irked beyond measure; you could actually hear her growl if you listened closely.

Admittedly, Tommy and Nemesis didn’t help matters by stopping to stuff their gobs with as many Schmackary’s cookies as they could shove down

(he may have been a grown man now who was once a kid in a grown man’s body – but deep down he was still a kid)

before Strange cast spell after spell at the back wall of the store – to no avail.

Unfortunately it was William’s job to break the bad news. “Yeah, the creatures behind that wall have always assumed their barrier would hold against any assault. That’s also why we haven’t seen them. They don’t consider us a threat.”

Madame Strange wasn’t willing to accept that. “NOT A THREAT?! YOU HAVE ALREADY ERADICATED THIS WORLD’S REMAINING ACOLYTES OF THE DARK… AND NOW I STAND BESIDE YOU! I WILL SHOW THEM WHAT A THREAT ACTUALLY IS!”

Her eyes clouded over with a red mist, she raised her arms and prepared to launch every erg of her power at the irksome boundary… and then Nemesis shut her down.

“Save your magical mojo. I’ve got this,” he announced, without the soothing stroking, of course.

(He certainly hadn’t forgotten what it felt like to be a toad.)

William stood before the blank wall and in a calm low voice, uttered a password.

“White knight.”

(Apparently even ancient gods believe in irony.)

The no-longer-concealed gateway shimmered before turning to black dust and dropping to the floor. A frosty breeze seemed to beckon the trio and they eagerly obliged, the gateway reforming behind them. A narrow corridor made up of marble from floor to ceiling soon gave way to a grand barren chamber with a substantial transparent cylinder as its focal point. Dozens of stainless steel gurneys surrounded the cylinder in the otherwise empty space.

“The hell?” was all Tommy could say.

“This is where it happens,” Strange exclaimed. “It is identical in ever reality I’ve visited thus far. This is where Their slaves drain their prey’s collective lifeforce and send it across the Multiverse so They can use it to sustain their unholy existence, Golden Lad.”

The Lad just stared at Nemesis for confirmation.

But there was no time for explanations.

The cylinder hissed like a deadly reptile announcing it’s presence and then a barely perceptible glow caught William’s eye. “They know something’s gone wrong,” he said. “They’re sending in reinforcements to protect the assets.”

He projected a telekinetic wave at the device – but the hissing and glowing only increased.

Madame Strange was most clinical in her assessment. “Your power is useless against Their apparatus. You are less than useless.”

Nemesis wouldn’t even cast a quick glance in her direction, he simply asked her a query as Tommy Preston wracked his brain trying to figure out how he was going to survive whatever was about to emerge from the device. “Are you invulnerable, Strange?”

She flexed her immaculate chest out like a strutting magical peacock before answering. “Of course I am, you simpleton, why -”

The indignant response died on her unblemished lips. Her unequaled bod left the marble floor and collided with the celestial contraption a nanosecond later, projected by a power not her own. The bulk of the teleportation gadget was shattered, reduced to fragments.

“What do you know? There really is more than one way to skin a necromantic cat!” Nemesis gleefully exclaimed to Golden Lad.

“You do realize she’s going to turn you back into a frog – and then she’s going to crush you under her heels?” Tommy asked.

But Nemesis wasn’t overwrought with concern, to say the least.

“Trust me… she’s about to get over it.”

Sure enough, the only door in the antechamber, a polished ebony aperture, free of any hinges or knobs, fell forward, thudding with a deafening roar as it met the marble floor. An inhuman personage, freed of its confinement and conditioned to act as the ultimate junkyard dog, lumbered into view. Barely humanoid, is sported the head of an octopus, a face composed of tentacles, a scaly, oily-grey body, and monstrous claws on its hands and feet. Protracted, slim wings completed the horrifying picture.

“YOU… LTTLE… LITTLE… MAN!” Strange shrieked as she rose to her feet spasming with rage.cthulhu-cthulhu-has-awakened

The Lad and Nemesis just pointed to the figure at the other end of the space.

Madame Strange flung around, screaming, WHAT NOW?” as she did so.

One nauseating glance later, a single word left Strange’s mouth…

“Cthulhu.”

“Technically, it’s actually Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn… but close enough,” William corrected as he steeled himself for battle most foul.

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5×5 With The Hook: Sean Armstrong.

It’s been a minute, but the 5×5 series is back in full force, readers.

Today we’re shining the Hook-Signal on author Sean Armstrong, whose work, like my own, crosses genres.

The Green Girl and the Serum is a YA science fiction superhero novel centered on three generations of a family cursed by a genetic code which has given them superhuman abilities.

(All the Hookey DNA contains is a pasty complexion and luck that’s sketchy at best.)

Find it on “the Amazon“.

Here’s the rundown on the first book in Sean’s literary universe:

Stacey Roberts is an average young woman whose dreams for the future are shattered when she is injected with a serum by the British Military, transforming her into the Green Girl. She escapes her captors and begins a life on the run. Years later she is reunited with Ben Fox, who, like her, has been injected with the serum.

The Green Girl strikes back at the military with the aid of Ben and his Mega Human Haven. Eventually Stacey finds herself at odds with another Mega Human group known as the Outcasts led by Surge, a figure from Ben’s past who plans to use the serum to create an army of Mega Humans to help his faction take over the world. Is Stacey up for this task? And what does her father have to do with the serum and its origin?

I don’t know about you, but I’m hooked.

(Yeah, I went there. Deal with it.)

A scribe after my own heart, Sean is a disabled author who lives in Stoke on Trent Staffordshire, England. His work incorporates themes that appeal to every reader, whether they’re fans of superheroes or not. I mean, we all have complicated familial relationships, right? And who isn’t fearful of their government and genetic engineering these days?

And finally, Sean’s MC was inspired by an ex whose star only crossed with his for a brief, shining moment. Who hasn’t experienced a breakup that stuck with them forever, am I right?

I really need to get some kick-ass, dedicated fans…

Unlike yours truly, Sean is incredibly focused and has already formulated a clear vision for his “Greenverse” (that term came form my addled brain, not Sean’s laser-focused consciousness) that includes the following adventures the Green Girl will be living through in the near future:

The Green Girl Destiny – Three years have passed since the defeat of the Outcasts and their leader Surge. Stacey is still fighting a war over her humanity and her powers and is now forced to find and recruit more Mega Humans. Haven receives a message from Washington warning them of an attack conducted by a human military faction known as The Faithful. Ben, Haven, and Stacey travel to Alaska where an old enemy of theirs lurks hungry for revenge. Which of these factions will win the war and will Stacey regain her lost humanity?

The Green Girls: Daughter of Fate – Stacey’s daughters Jen and Michelle are pitted
against each other as one of them betrays Haven to the reborn Outcasts.

The Green Girls: Daughters of Destiny – Both daughters use their combined might against the Outcasts.

The New Green Girl: Child of Fate – Stacey’s granddaughter is kidnapped by a scientist who wants to use her DNA to create a new serum and to resurrect the Mega Human program.

The New Green Girl: Bloodlines – Stacey’s granddaughter, Tara, reunites with her family and together they tackle the threat posed by Blackice and his forces who intend to use the serum to rule the world.

(Told you Sean was focused.)

Now’s the time on Sprockets when we dance! (As a Canadian I’m contractually obligated to throw in a Mike Myers reference.) And when I subject my guest to a unique form of torture brilliance. Namely, the 5×5 treatment.

ONE)  What’s your dream cast for a Green Girl movie franchise? (Most authors picture certain actors as they’re creating their own characters.)

Maybe Anya Taylor-Joy as the role of Stacey? 052021_Anya_Taylor_Joy_Lede

TWO)  Do you have a playlist that helps stimulate your creative juices?

I normally listen to Jeff Wayne’s Musical version of the War of the Worlds when I am writing.

(Fascinating choice.)

THREE)  If you could have dinner in any time period with any fellow writer, living or otherwise, where in the timestream would this meal take place and who would you be breaking bread with?

JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis as both are two of my favorite fantasy authors. I would love to go to the pub with them and have a beer or two.

FOUR)  Cats: evil or just misunderstood?

Evil.

FIVE)  What inspired you to write this particular story?

I was inspired by two things the first was the Metal Gear Solid line of games for the story as well as the interesting cast of characters. The second was the film Unbreakable in which Bruce Willis’ character David Dunn, is the sole survivor of a train derailment. He meets Elijah Price, a man who suffers with brittle bones who convinces Dunn that he is a superhero.

As a bonus, Robert, I’ve included a pic from my book event that was held at Fenton Community Café in Stoke on Trent. Unfortunately only four people turned up. It was sort of a launch event. I originally published the book during the Covid outbreak, so I couldn’t launch it properly.

IMG_2801[1]

Thanks for the ridiculously-cool snapshots, Sean! You can find this phenomenal scribe on the Interweb at these cyber-spots:

I want to thank Sean Armstrong for joining us today. The Greenverse (I think it’s going to catch on) is fascinating and I wish you all the best in the future, buddy.

See you in the cyberverse, kids…

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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Nine.

Where were we?

Oh yeah, William Nemesis had just been turned into a frog.

(Admittedly, it wasn’t one of his finer moments – though he’d certainly experienced stranger.)

Unlike his cartoon counterparts or telepaths of great renown

(Nemesis’ telepathic abilities were low-level; great for the Jedi mind trick but that’s about it)

he found himself unable to speak or communicate in any way. In fact, his mind appeared to be regressing to an animalistic state, hence the insatiable hunger for as many flies as his now-elongated tongue could snatch. This left the magical ball in the hands responsible for William’s fate: the scantily-clad sorceress known as Madame Strange.

Still reeling from her own actions – she hadn’t employed this particular skill in many a moon – Strange was still paralyzed, unable to fully process the events she had just set into motion. She had been trailing her prey across worlds, a baker’s dozen, in fact, and now, on the world of her birth ironically, a simple slip-up undid all her hard work,

Then Nog (“Nemesis” mixed with “frog”) released a massive croak and snapped the antagonistic mage back to life.

“Oh very well,” she sighed in a sultry tone. “I believe my point has been sufficiently established… you will listen to my words and no longer invade my personal space unless requested to do so, correct?” The command left her exquisite lips just as Strange realized an amphibian couldn’t answer even if it wanted to, and so she began to reverse her supernatural handiwork when yet another player player entered the fray…

Madame_strange

Do not mess with the Madame…

“WHERE… IS… HE!” The voice that merged from the figure standing in the Empire’s doorway was hoarse and weak yet simultaneously brimming with rage.

“Oh, it’s you,” Madame Strange was unimpressed and quickly turned her attention back to Nemesis.

But this newest arrival to the proceedings wasn’t content to be dismissed. “I WON’T ASK AGAIN… YOU HARLOT!”

That did it.

“I have little time to play with you… you mewling stripling. Now go find a tailor to make you some more mature garments before I have you join… him.” Strange’s frigid dismissal did little to cool Golden Lad’s white-hot anger – but seeing Nemesis reshaped into an amphibian certainly did.

(Okay, so I lied. the Lad is actually an old player, not a new one. Sue me.) 

At any rate, GL burst into a raucous fit of maniacal laughter at the sight of his “super fan’s” transformation. “I’d forgotten you could do that, Strange!” he announced between giggles before snapping back to a tenuous form of sanity. “Where the hell have you been, anyway? No one’s seen you for decades… not since you disappeared in a burst of blinding light over the Statue of Liberty. I could have used your help all this time, you know!”

Her mind momentarily cast itself back to the event in question but Madame Strange had no time for such trivial reminisces. Gesturing in arcane fashion, she at last undid her witchery and restored William Nemesis to his gangly mortal form.

Having a human throat again meant he could finally articulate his feelings. – and he had plenty of them. “What precisely is your damage, you golden age Kardashian reject? It’s not enough to stalk me across the Multiverse… you had to make me a low-rent Thor variant too? If I had the time I’d kick your magnificent ass! And Tommy, you should be directing your anger where it belongs… we’ve got a lab full of your friends that needs burning to the ground!”

Tommy Preston was flabbergasted, so much so he had no retort. On one hand, his power, which had been drawn from the souls of a thousand martyred Aztecs, had been irrevocably drained

(completely against his will, it should be noted) 

and he was pissed about it. On the other, he had just been told his lost allies were not only still breathing, there was a chance they could be freed?  6588626-img_0041

“You better not be messing with me, boyo – ”

“He isn’t,” Madame Strange coldly injected. “But freeing your friends from their dormancy will mean nothing if this world’s death throes are the first and last noise they hear upon awakening.”

Tommy’s already-brittle consciousness was about to splinter beyond repair. William knew he had to channel the Speed Force and bring this Titanic-sized train wreck back under control before his entire mission was rendered pointless.

“Yes, Tommy, now that those two middle-management thralls are out of the picture this world is on a countdown… but believe me when I tell you there is an army of the most unconventional, marginalized, forgotten heroes across a host of realities fighting to make sure every world survives the conflict that ‘s coming.”

His words penetrated Golden Lad’s wounded heart. He knew what it was to be the hero everyone overlooks – and what it felt like to be a world’s only hope.

But Madame Strange was another story altogether.

“Your actions have obliterated the Balance on thirteen worlds now, forcing them onto a collision course with their final end, William Nemesis, what makes you think your allies will succeed before time runs out on these realities?” she questioned with chilling superiority.

“The best of things, Strange. The thing that powers me and every one of my brothers in this war… hope.”

“SERIOUSLY? HOPE’S YOUR SECRET WEAPON!” Golden Lad sputtered. “Even I’m not buying into that! And I’ve been flying around in shorts for decades!”

“Okay, fine,” William groaned as he headed towards the Empire Diner’s mangled front entrance. “I also have a plan so airtight it’s practically hermetically sealed. Can you two just trust me so we can get moving before this earth really is lost for good?”

The two heroes of a bygone age just stared at Nemesis as though someone had pressed “pause” on their lives. “Okay, fine,” he responded. “I know you feel rudderless without your power but the Heart of Gold is still functioning -”

“Then why the hell did I have to walk back here, you idiot?” was Tommy’s snappy comeback.

“You still have your costume, don’t you?” William then grabbed a cup of ice cold java left behind by an Empire patron who vacated as soon as the action began. It sloshed against Golden Lad’s chiseled chest without leaving a single drop behind. “And the mojo that keeps it clean is still in place… so there’s a shining example of hope right there!”

The Lad looked unimpressed. To say the least.

“And there’s a way to get the Heart back up to full power… but only if we get ourselves to that lab!” Nemesis’ sales pitch appeared to be doing the trick with Tommy – but Madame Strange was still a rock.

“I know what you’re worried about, lady, but there’s a strategy in place to keep this and every reality from disintegrating and becoming a giant cosmic energy drink for She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named… assuming She ever finds Her way back from wherever the hell She disappeared to!”

Madame Strange cracked ever… so… slightly.

“Very well,” she relented. “Let us go and dismantle the remainder of The Dark’s infrastructure so this stratagem of yours can commence. But know this, William Nemesis…

(a big fan of dramatic pauses, Madame Strange)

I represent one who will not allow the Multiverse to fall under any circumstances,” she shot a glacial glare in the direction of both male heroes. “I know spells that make the frog form seem like paradise.”

“Greeeat,” was their dual acknowledgment.

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Stumbling Through The Darkness…

I think there’s a reason my first novel I chose to title my first novel, Into The Dark and not Please Buy This Novel or The Bookie’s Gonna Take My Thumbs!

(Though the latter kinda pops.)

I have indeed been wandering somewhat aimlessly through a seemingly-impenetrable shroud of darkness of late, though honestly, I had no idea how serious the situation had actually become. In retrospect, I know the exact date, moment, and time when things began to go askew: September 15, 11:33 am are the date and time. As for the moment…

My lovely bride and I were returning from the vet with our trusty canine companion (who had contracted a mild case of kennel cough from a new groomer) completely unaware that our lives were about to change forever.

(Suspense, kids!)

I had a case of dog food in one arm, flyers from the driveway in another, when I tripped on a stone pad in front of a set of wooden stairs leading to our home. Jerry Lewis – or if you prefer, Chevy Chase –  would’ve been proud of the impromptu “dance” I engaged in before falling upon said staircase. I hit the wooden structure with all the force of a drunken rampaging Hulk. Unlike Bruce Banner’s other half, though, my frame is all-too vulnerable to injury. All I can vividly recall is my wife calling out to me as I fell. That, and the pain.

Brief, but unbelievably intense pain.

Following that, I found myself on the lawn to the left of the “killer staircase”, writhing in literal blinding agony. I soon discovered that closing my eyes while remaining perfectly still helped to alleviate the effects of the waves of torment coursing across my mortal form. An ambulance bearing two guardian angels arrived thirty minutes later – though we live a scant eight minutes form the local ER – and I soon found myself in a hospital bed receiving a grim diagnosis.

My left hip had fared far worse in the collision than the wooden staircase. It had, in fact, been shattered. In retrospect though, the outcome could have been far, far worse. If my head collided with the stairs as hard as my hip did, I would be either paralyzed or dead.  And so, twenty-four hours later The Hook underwent a full replacement of a fragmented joint.

“We’re all stunned… this should be happening at 72, Mr. Hookey, not 52!” – my ER doctor, a genuinely kind physician with a sense of humor.

The surgery itself was fairly routine. My experience while under anesthesia, however, was not. Something extraordinary happened to me as I lay in a medially-induced slumber, but I’m just not ready to share the details at this time, sorry.

istockphoto-949351922-612x612

X-ray scan image of hip joints with orthopedic hip joint replacement implant head and screws in human skeleton in blue gray tones. Scanned in orthopedics traumatology surgery hospital clinic.

Titanium isn’t vibranium… but it’s pretty cool.

My surgeon expected me to spend three to four days recovering from my procedure but as usual, Mistress Fate had other ideas. As it turns out, I am anemic and simply put, lacked the required strength for physiotherapy. On Day Eight however, I mustered the power needed to take a stroll down a hallway with a walker and to climb and descend a set of stairs in the physio gym. (The son of an addict, I resisted taking my pain pills – until I finally accepted how vital pain management is to one’s physiotherapy regiment.) As soon as that Herculean task was completed, however, I undertook a few more excruciating missions:

  • Sloooowly getting into the passenger seat of our car in order to avoid spending money on another ambulance ride, this time to our home.  
  • Ascending those dreaded front stairs, this time successfully.
  • Moving through our home to the rented hospital bed my spouse had set up in our dining room where I would spend the next six weeks sleeping on my back instead of my usual side.
  • Sitting on a commode while struggling with my IBS, now amped up a thousand times by the fact I couldn’t find the strength to push while struggling with waves of pain coming from my body’s attempt to bond with a titanium hip. (My apologies for the imagery.)
  • Adhering to restrictions such as not bending over or pivoting backwards or most importantly, not breaking 90 degrees with my new hip.

The weeks following my accident have been dominated by challenges: financial, physical, and mental. The psychological scars left by my incident have effected my creative journey as an author as well – to say the very least. Ironically, I found myself with a very open schedule, one that was very conducive to writing.

And yet, I was hopelessly blocked. 

Time and persistence allowed me to open the creative flood gates eventually. Then I started to lose faith in myself as an indie author responsible for his own marketing strategies. And so, long cerebral story short, I unpublished and republished my book in the span of 48 hours after much soul-searching. Nothing would please me more than landing an agent, or better yet, getting the attention of Neil Gaiman, Henry Winkler or Stephen King as a certain writer did recently – but I’m completely on my own.

But I’ve finally accepted my fate and most importantly, made peace with it.

I’ll never be the man or bellman I was but I’m still here, ready to rage against the dying of the light, every single day if necessary. And I am ecstatic to report that my medical experts are quite pleased with my progress. Fortunately, my family has spurred me on  as I work out four times a day and as I go walking at a track, where senior citizens leave me in the dust. I’ve never felt more blessed to live in a country where my surgery, hospital stay, in-home nurses and physiotherapists haven’t costed me a dime.

God bless the Great White North. 

This has been the most laborious post I’ve ever written. Period. I’ve had no real desire to share this latest adventure but I feel you deserve some explanation for my recent erratic online behavior, friends. I will now take questions from the audience…

Posted in Hotel Life | 17 Comments

Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Eight.

Wanna know a secret?

(Of course you do, no one has ever said no to that question.)

Alternate realties were never part of God’s grand plan. When the Divine Creator was casting light into the Void to cast aside the darkness in order for the universe to be born

(an idea She may or not have stole, incidentally) 

She was a bit distracted – to say the least. And so She was completely oblivious to the machinations of another force that waited until just… the… right… moment to give Her a little nudge. The result? A cosmic sneeze.

Do you know what happens when God sneezes as She’s creating the universe?

That’s right, you clever rascals: She hits the “copy” and “paste” functions on her Divine Laptop and the Multiverse is born! Millennia later, God is nowhere to be found, and The Light and The Grey, two-thirds of the operatives She put into place to maintain the Balance that keeps all of reality humming, have been vanquished by the remaining original demi-gods, The Dark. Why does any of this matter in the context of this particular drama, you ask?

Keep reading, you virtual bookworms…

doctor-strange

William Nemesis was lost in his mind’s eye, floating between realities as his unconscious body lay on the Empire Diner’s busted tile floor. To be honest, it was quite peaceful.

(You just knew it wouldn’t last, right?)

“Time to wake up, you superpowered Xerox,” the tone was unmistakably tender yet simultaneously ominous. An impossibly soft, unblemished hand gestured towards the greasy spoon’s galley beckoning a pot of ice-cold java. At it’s new mistress’ command it was briefly poised upright over the slumbering hero – then it wasn’t.

“Son of Jor-el!” Nemesis sputtered between involuntary gulps of frigid brew. He sprang up, fully expecting to direct a telekinetic blast at an unknown assailant with a particularly cruel sense of humor. He took in the sight of a statuesque, well-toned knockout with aquamarine orbs

(eyes, you perverts)

elevated cheekbones, flowing raven locks and ruby red lips Snow White would trade every dwarf’s soul for.

“The rest of me is down here, sport,” a melodic voice and two of those perfect arms, their wrists wrapped in maroon bands directed.

William slooowly examined a fluttering blue cape that gave off a vibe even a low-level telepath like him could pick up on and a crimson bikini top that sat above an exposed midriff you could bounce a quarter off of. A golden belt with a skull belt buckle would have held up a pair of spandex Daisy Dukes – if they weren’t painted on. Legs that stretched on forever ended at thigh-high reptilian boots.

“Convinced I’m not a threat, sport?” the barely-clad siren questioned.

“Not really. I’ve faced plenty of foxes who wanted to rip my throat out… but if you truly wanted me dead I doubt you would have woke me up first. Do you have a stage name, baroness?”

Her response was succinct and deliberately mysterious. “I am… Strange.”

“I believe you,” Nemesis got to his feet guardedly before he continued. “I really hate to have to be the one tell you this, lady… but that handle’s taken.”

His new friend was unfazed by this revelation. “Madame Strange.”

1440264-madame_strange_great_publications_1941

The female Strange debuted in 1941, 22 years before her male counterpart.

Brushing the detritus from his tattered uniform, Nemesis refused to take his eyes off this new player. “Not to be rude, Madame, I’m glad to see another hero survived this Multiversal Purge, but you’re a little late to the game. The bad guys have been dispatched with extreme prejudice. As for what happens next… well, I suppose I could use some help, especially since Golden Lad is most likely freaking out and is possibly powerless right now.” Making his way to the Empire’s damaged front door, he waved the female strange to follow. “We need to hit the streets, there are some people we need to wake up.”

But as he crossed the threshold to this alternate Gotham he found his path blocked by an imposing figure.

“You cannot follow this unchanging path, adventurer,” she commanded in an assertive but irresistibly  alluring tone. “We need to talk.”

“We’ve just met and you’re already breaking up with me?’

“Your banter may have charmed other females throughout the cosmos… like that ridiculous…” she gulped and winced before continuing, “Aerial Wench, I believe was her name. But it is wasted on me. I have a higher duty to attend to.”

“Aerial Wench?” Nemesis searched his erotic memory banks. ‘Oh! You mean Ginger! Her code-name was Sky Girl. She was a sweet gal with no real powers, though she had plenty of pluck and loved to -” William ceased his amorous recollections as a realization hit him like a cold shower. “Wait a megaversal minute… have you been following me from world to world?”

“Indeed!” she boasted, somehow standing even taller as she did so. “And I must say, if you spent as much time carefully considering the consequences of this holy crusade as you do bedding femme fatales, you would have realized -”

Nemesis disrupted her tirade, moving in even closer as a furious wave overtook him. “I could have used your help on some of those worlds! Entire universes have died because I couldn’t stop The Dark’s lackeys from hitting the self-destruct button before I could liberate everyone! The only reason I’ve had so many hook-ups is so I can forget about all the blood on my hands!” He pressed in even further.

Too far, in fact.

Madame Strange raised her arms in instinctual defense, casting a spell out of sheer reflex. Nemesis appeared to vanish in a puff of billowing smoke. Strange stood motionless, shocked by her actions and then cast her sublime gaze at the floor where a bullfrog in a green cow skin jacket and a tattered ensemble sat.

“The bitch turned me into Throg.” Nemesis croaked.

Definitely…

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The Hook’s Book Has A New Look.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

(Or did She?)

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

(But did She truly act alone as She claims?)

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, and it was good; and God divided The Light from The Dark.

And then She created The Grey to stand between Her creations lest they destroy one another, and thus, The Balance was achieved.

And so the seeds of mankind’s destruction were sowed.

Millenia later, earth is far from the paradise it was intended to be. Mankind’s light is being overcome by darkness – but people are far too distracted to even recognize their own downfall.

The Light and The Grey – and even God – are nowhere to be found and the earth is dying as a result, it’s champions having been defeated and virtually erased from history.

But there’s hope in the form of the Multiverse’s greatest –

Okay, so maybe not the “greatest”, but my team, the Infinite Syndicate, is still in this fight. I’ll admit we make Vox Machina look like the Avengers – but we’re all you’ve got, people.

So go back to your streaming and your Insta-Tikking or whatever the hell it’s called, we’ve got your back.

I think.

Into The Dark, Book One of the Infinite Crossover Crisis.

Available now on Amazon.

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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Seven.

On 30 May 542 at the bloodiest height of the Battle of Camlann, King Arthur

(you may have heard of him, he was kind of a big deal in the 6th century)

charged at his traitorous nephew,

(or maybe he was his son, this particular family tree’s roots are pretty gnarled and twisted)

Mordred, and ran him through with a spear.

(And you thought your family had problems?)

More of a badass than anyone realized, Mordred impaled himself even further to be within striking distance of his hated relative, and landed a killing blow with his sword to Arthur’s head.

Or so the legend goes.

But there are many worlds, more than the human mind can conceive of. In one such reality it wasn’t Mordred that the king faced at Camlann. It wasn’t even a single mortal foe at all, but rather the avatar of a force more insidious than Arthur ever could have imagined. On that fated day one of Britain’s most revered rulers took up arms against one of the first five beings in existence on the mortal plane, a real nasty piece of work named Erebus. This primordial deity considered himself the personification of darkness itself.

(He abandoned that illusion pretty damn quick.)

At the battle’s climax Arthur Pendragon stumbled through the wreckage of a once majestic stronghold, his fabled weapon, the cursed sword, Excalibur, cutting into the stone and the corpses of slain Saxons and Arthur’s forces beneath it as he dragged it along.

“You may have vanquished me… you devils… but my Camelot will rise again,” he boasted to his foes, his breath ragged but still commanding.

Nothing more than a hulking skeletal figure wrapped in an ebony cloak made of black smoke, Erebus had no lips but his response was succinct to say the least. “ƗŦ ŴƗŁŁ ŇØŦ.”

Undaunted, the depleted sovereign continued. “Your masters have hidden themselves well, hiding behind Morgana and that traitorous bastard, Mordred. Who are they, truly? Speak… you unearthly, damned devil!”

“¥ØỮ ĦΔV€ ₣ØỮǤĦŦ βŘΔV€Ł¥… ₣ØŘ Δ ŴØŘΜ, ΔŇĐ ŞØ ŦĦ€¥ ĦΔV€ Đ€ĆƗЀРŦØ ǤŘΔŇŦ ¥ØỮ ¥ØỮŘ βØØŇ. ŦĦ€¥ ΔŘ€ ǤØĐ’Ş ₣ƗŇ€ŞŦ ĆŘ€ΔŦƗØŇ. Ħ€Ř ĐƗVƗŇ€ ƤØŦ€ŇĆ¥ ǤƗV€Ň ₣ØŘΜ ΔŇĐ ₣ỮŇĆŦƗØŇ. ŦĦ€¥, ĐØØΜ€Đ ҜƗŇǤ, ΔŘ€ ŦĦ€ ĐΔŘҜ.”

The king’s code demanded he take the measure of his foes before battle. And so now that he had a name to put to the unspeakable acts his adversaries had committed, Arthur Pendragon raised his weapon one last time. “On my sword I vow… this is not the true end! Somehow… someway… I shall always fight The Dark.”

Arthur across the Multiverse…

Centuries later, the memory of that day still burned bright in Erebus’ lightless, demented consciousness – especially as he gazed into the eyes of another equally intractable worm. William Nemesis should have surrendered his sanity in the face of such incandescent hatred and malevolence, but to tell the truth, he was filled with more hope than he’d known in years.

It really pissed Erebus off.

Nemesis could see the dark god’s inner turmoil and decided to press his advantage. Hard. “It’s been centuries since you faced someone like me, right, you unearthly, damned devil?”

The phrasing struck a nerve in The Dark’s enslaved servant. Recollections of a sunless, blood-drenched day when the air was thick with the stifling scent of ash and death cascaded through Erebus’ tangled psyche.

(He wished he had the time to truly savor the moment.)

But he a holy mission to continue, one that had become more herculean with the inconceivable extermination of his beloved mate.

“Ŵ€ ĦΔĐ ŦΔҜ€Ň Μ€ΔŞỮŘ€Ş ŦØ €ŇŞỮŘ€ ŦĦ€ ΜΔŇ-ĆĦƗŁĐ ŴØỮŁĐ Ň€V€Ř ỮŇŁØĆҜ ĦƗŞ ŦŘỮ€ ƤØŦ€ŇŦƗΔŁ… ΔŇĐ ¥€Ŧ Ħ€ ĆŁ€ΔŘŁ¥ ĦΔŞ,” Erebus’ words buzzed in Nemesis’ mind, like a head full of bees.

Fortunately, the young Multiversal voyager wasn’t rattled easily. “Yeah, as you’ve probably guessed by now… you have me to thank for that. My mental powers aren’t very strong, but they were enough to give those voices in Tommy’s head the extra oomph they needed to finally break free of the psychological walls you put up.” 

He could feel the pitch-black spiders that had formed a sarcophagus around him hiss and twitch, desperate to devour him whole, but this just made an even bigger grin form around Nemesis’s lips. 

“¥ØỮ ₣ΔĆ€ Δ ₣ΔŦ€ ŴØŘŞ€ ŦĦΔŇ ŦĦ€ €ЖŦƗŇǤỮƗŞĦƗŇǤ Ø₣ ¥ØỮŘ ŁƗǤĦŦ… ΔŇĐ ¥€Ŧ, ŦĦ€Ř€ ƗŞ ĴØ¥ ỮƤØŇ ¥ØỮŘ ƤỮŦŘƗĐ VƗŞΔǤ€, ŴØŘΜ?” the primeval daemon would never understand mortals, especially this one. But it was of no relevance. “¥ØỮ ΔŘ€ ΔβØỮŦ ŦØ Ş€ŘV€ Δ ǤŘ€ΔŦ€Ř ƤỮŘƤØŞ€, ŁΔŘVΔ.  ØŇ€ ¥ØỮ ĆØỮŁĐ Ň€V€Ř ĆØΜƤŘ€Ħ€ŇĐ.”

“Oh, I know exactly what you have in store for me. You want to trap me in that celestial fragment your overlords acquired, siphon off my power and dispatch it to them in the prime reality via some sort of supernatural Uber Eats type of deal. I’m red hot, right?”

Curiosity gave way to inconceivable rage as Erebus summoned a gateway above Nemesis’ prone form. “€ŇØỮǤĦ! ¥ØỮ ΔŘ€ ŇØ… Ħ€ŘØ…”

(oh, how he hated that word!)

“¥ØỮ ΔŘ€ ŇØŦĦƗŇǤ ΜØŘ€ ŦĦΔŇ ₣ØØĐ! ΔŇĐ Δ ŞƤØƗŁ€Đ Μ€ΔŁ, ŇØ ĐØỮβŦ!”

His improvised living casket began to break the bonds of gravity and hover towards the portal – but Nemesis had one helluva an ace up his leather sleeve.

“We grubs have a saying,” he declared, his voice quickly becoming a roar. “When you stare into the heroic abyss…” 

Erebus felt yet another unnatural sensation cleave through his primal carcass. He simultaneously mutated from his core identity to the hundreds he had assumed over the course of his cursed existence.

“The heroic abyss stares back, bitch!”

The black magic arachnids convulsed and faded as Erebus’ heinous omnipotence was overwhelmed. White-hot fluorescence erupted in his core. For the first time in his unholy existence he screamed until his ancient throat drifted away along with the rest of his form. 

He was one of the First Beings, given life by the Creator as one of the pillars of the Balance, the bedrock of the worlds She was building across a newly-birthed Multiverse. Nemesis knew the depth of his actions this day – just as he knew he had no choice but to carry them out.

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The die fatefully cast, William Nemesis collapsed on the debris scattered across the Empire Diner’s shattered floor, fatigue finally taking an unbreakable hold.

(Rubbing out an archaic deity really takes a lot out of a guy.)

For a nanosecond silence reigned between the Empire’s broken walls.

Then an otherworldly hum filled the space and another player joined the game…

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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Six

“The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.”- Euripides

Both Tommy Preston (Golden Lad) and William Nemesis

(with a last name like “Nemesis” who needs a superhero moniker?)

subscribed to Euripides’ philosophy, each in their own style, of course. Nemesis was one of the very few beings left on his world who actually acknowledged the great powers left around him – and how unimaginably evil they were. And while Golden Lad was always aware of the great powers that resided in his own consciousness, until this fateful day he refused to actually listen to them. Enlightenment had brought a decisive victory against one of the jailers that had kept him in a sort of fugue state as everything he knew was defiled, but there was a helluva Catch-22: the Lad won the battle but was sidelined for whatever remained of the war.

That left Nemesis to tangle with the surviving indentured servant of The Dark, a hostile party with the most chilling, spine-tingling sobriquet imaginable… Melvin.

“I can’t believe you don’t have Alice in this reality but you douchebags still went undercover as restaurant workers named Flo and Mel,” Nemesis proclaimed as he brought the full might of his telekinesis to bear against the aforementioned servant of malevolence.

Against all odds, the mental snare held fast, much to the bewilderment of The Dark’s watchman.

“How… in Their… blessed name… are… you doing this?” Melvin questioned as he strained to wrap his wicked hands around the young hero’s neck in order to squeeze the sentience from this meat sack. (A brain-dead prize was more ideal for The Dark’s purposes.)

“What can I say?” Nemesis declared with all the bravado he could muster. “My people are like a certain television police lieutenant in a rumpled raincoat that you’ve probably never heard of either… bad guys always underestimate us to their peril.”

“We have Columbo on this world, you flea!”

A stupefied William only had one response. “Seriously?”

The comparison of multiversal fictional characters came to a grinding halt as Melvin was shook with a telepathic revelation: His partner, his mate, his crony, had been terminated. A quiver echoed through his soul

(or the reasonable equivalent)

and a thundering wave of fury overtook him. So intimate was the connection between the two entities that Melvin experienced exactly what Flo did when Golden Lad unleashed the full force of his “high voltage vision”

(“x-ray vision” was already taken)

mixed with the collective essence of a thousand martyred Aztecs and reduced her to less than ash in seconds. He could feel Flo struggle to maintain the stability of her demonic protoplasm, only to fail before being able to even send out an arcane SOS across the planes of reality to their masters’ base of operations. They had been blessed with a holy task; one they had carried out smoothly without impediment.

But that had all changed over the course of a single lunchtime rush.

Capturing this rogue hero was no longer Melvin’s primary objective. No, for his part in this atrocity, this would-be conquering hero had to die – slowly and painfully over the course of a millennia.

“¥ØỮ ĐƗĐ ŦĦƗŞ!  ŦĦƗŞ ƤŁΔĆ€ ŴΔŞ ØỮŘŞ… ØỮŘŞ ŦØ ØV€ŘŞ€€… ŦĦ€Ň ¥ØỮ ĆΔΜ€ ΔŇĐ ₣ŘΔĆŦỮ؀РŦĦƗŞ Ƥ€Ř₣€ĆŦ ĆØŇŞŦŘỮĆŦ!” Melvin’s speech was no longer recognizable as human. The facade was gone, leaving only the malignant spirit to avenge its mate. “ƤŘƗΜƗŦƗV€Ş! ŞĦ€ ŴΔŞ Đ€ŞŦŘØ¥€Đ β¥ ŦĦ€ ĐƗŞ€ΔŞ€Đ ƤØŴ€Ř Ø₣ ƤŘƗΜƗŦƗV€Ş. ŦĦƗŞ… ĆΔŇŇØŦ… ŞŦΔŇĐ!” He screeched like a barbarian of a bygone age

(but not one you’d like to go drinking with like Conan)

as the tk mousetrap that had held him shattered sixty seconds later.

Blinding pain spasmed through Nemesis’ brain box. He crumpled to the Empire Diner’s debris covered floor – though only momentarily. His supernatural adversary grabbed him by his gangly neck and flung him through one of the Empire’s other front bay windows. The horde of gawkers had retreated further down the street, trampling one another as Melvin’s howls echoed across this variant Gotham and so there was no one to hear William’s continuing commentary.

“It doesn’t matter the reality, it doesn’t matter the nature of the fight, there’s one Multiversal constant you can rely on,” he continued to no one in particular as he rose to his trembling feet. “A Nemesis is always going to get thrown out of a restaurant… by way of a window.” William examined his shredded leather jacket and t-shirt and couldn’t help but wish he had encountered a mystic capable of putting a protection whammy on clothing like some of his brothers. Though it left him as heartbroken as heartbroken as Hugh Jackman at the Tony Awards, he discarded his mangled Aviator sunglasses before heading back into the fray.

At least, that was the plan.

Melvin booted the diner’s front door off its hinges and bounded at his prey. Nemesis did his best Spectacular Spidey impersonation and leapt over The Dark’s murderous point man.

(Just because you can take a lot of punishment doesn’t mean you have to.)

“I’m not Rocky, Erebus,” Nemesis taunted as he bolted back into the Empire via its now doorless entrance. “My ring’s inside.”

“How do you know that name?” Melvin howled; Nemesis’ jab having struck whatever passed for a nerve in his manufactured body. But the hunter’s game had already retreated, and so in a reversal of the Man in Black and the Gunslinger, the villain followed the hero, desperate to make him suffer before snuffing out his light forever.

God_of_shadows

“¥ØỮ β€ŁƗ€V€ ¥ØỮ ΔŘ€ ƤŘØŦ€ĆŦƗŇǤ ŦĦ€Ş€ ĆØŴ€ŘƗŇǤ ĆΔŦŦŁ€ β¥ ŞĦƗ€ŁĐƗŇǤ ŦĦ€Μ ₣ŘØΜ βΔŦŦŁ€, ¥ØỮ ΜØŘŦΔŁ Ƥ€ΔŞΔŇŦ?” Melvin questioned as he raced back inside. “ΔŇ¥ VƗĆŦØŘ¥ ΔĆĦƗ€V€Đ Ħ€Ř€ ŴØỮŁĐ ØŇŁ¥ ŇỮŁŁƗ₣¥ ŦĦ€ƗŘ ĆỮŘŞ€Đ €ЖƗŞŦ€ŇĆ€… ŦĦØỮǤĦ ŦĦ€ ĦØŴ ΔŇĐ ŴĦ¥ ŴØỮŁĐ ØŇŁ¥ β€ β€¥ØŇĐ ¥ØỮŘ ₣€€βŁ€ ƤØŴ€ŘŞ Ø₣ ĆØΜƤŘ€Ħ€ŇŞƗØŇ Ŵ€Ř€ Ɨ ŦØ ŴΔŞŦ€ ŦĦ€ ₣ƗŇΔŁ ΜØΜ€ŇŦŞ Ø₣ ¥ØỮŘ ŴŘ€ŦĆĦ€Đ ŁƗ₣€ €ĐỮĆΔŦƗŇǤ ¥ØỮ!”

“Trust me, pal,” Nemesis countered. “I understand exactly what I’m doing! This peasant has traversed the Multiverse under his own steam!”

“ĦΔ! ŦĦΔŦ’Ş ¥ØỮŘ βØΔŞŦ? ƤŘƗΜΔŦ€Ş ĦΔV€ ŦŘΔV€ŁŁ€Đ ŦĦ€ ΜỮŁŦƗV€ŘŞ€!” Melvin bellowed as he dispatched a seemingly endless stream of miniature obsidian daggers from his boney fingertips.

No Wall Crawler role-playing this time for Nemesis; he telekinetically pulled every bit of furniture, silverware and even the Empire Diner’s floor to his position to form a makeshift barricade. The slapdash shield did its job and protected him from the coal black projectiles – for about thirty seconds. The pint-sized weapons struck the buffer and instantaneously reformed to become a legion of arachnids. The ebony spiders scaled Nemesis’ defenses in seconds and leapt onto his body. He was covered in the blink of an eye and bowled over before you could say, “Holy Kingdom of the Spiders, Batman!”

“ΔŇĐ ŞØ, ¥€Ŧ ΔŇØŦĦ€Ř…. Ħ€ŘØ…

(speaking the word always left a vile taste upon Melvin’s fabricated lips that would linger for months)

₣ΔŁŁŞ β€₣ØŘ€ ŦĦ€ ỮŇŞŦØƤƤΔβŁ€ ΜƗǤĦŦ Ø₣ ŦĦ€ƗŘ ĐƗVƗŇ€ Ş€ŘVΔŇŦ!” Melvin pronounced as he trod over the collapsed remnants of his foe’s defenses to inspect his handiwork. The counterfeit spiders had united to form an onyx coffin around their victim. Melvin gestured with his simulated hands and an aperture opened, revealing Nemesis face. His expression evoked a foreign sensation in Melvin, one he had never experienced when encountering a human, especially a costumed crusader.

He was curious.

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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Five

Before we begin, here’s a hyper-sonic science primer on “g-forces”: Poindexters will tell you that a g-force is a measure of acceleration. 1G is the acceleration we feel every waking moment as the force of gravity keeps our feet firmly planted on terra firma.

The typical mortal can withstand about 5 Gs, which you’ll feel on your average roller coaster at some ridiculously overpriced theme park. Military pilots and astronauts are trained to acclimate their bodies for 9 Gs. Any higher and g-induced loss of consciousness (G-LOC) clicks in, moving blood away from the brain and causing pilots to lose control of their aircrafts.

It’s safe to say that Golden Lad and the acolyte of evil known as Flo were experiencing Gs that would crush any pilot not blessed with invulnerability as they skyrocketed across this variant New York City skyline.

But that didn’t stop them from literally tearing into each other as they weaved around – and occasionally, even through – skyscrapers, water towers, billboards, and of course, scaffolding.

Needle-pointed tendrils spurted like deadly geysers from Flo’s ink-like catsuit, stabbing and puncturing the Lad’s costume and flesh at dozens of points, forcing him to decelerate and slam into a warehouse at the Red Hook Marine Terminal in Brooklyn, some six miles away from the Empire Diner where their clash began. The adversaries crashed as one but separated instantaneously upon impact, ripped apart by the high-speed impact of animate and inanimate matter.

Flo made no attempt to assume a defensive position, choosing instead to flop about like a rag doll before coming to a halt in the middle of a loading area filled with giant crates whose cargo had long since been forgotten. She returned to her feet in seconds, unaffected by the blunt force trauma of breaking through a steel and metal structure. Navigating her way through the rows of boxes like a demonic bloodhound, Flo located her prey in minutes.

“Poor, pathetic, little Tommy Preston. The superhuman who thinks he’s immune to the fires of time your kind burns in, but who will always be the mewling child whose own grandfather sacrificed him to save his wrinkled, weak skin. You have no idea how good you had it, dearie,” Flo hissed. “You could have remained content in your stream of victories over those mortal pissants, inconsequential as they were.”

But Flo’s taunts couldn’t pierce the cacophony of sounds and feelings washing over her prey as he attempted to free himself from the pile of rubble bearing down on his wounded frame.

He only existed for one thing in that moment but Golden Lad couldn’t ignore the steady stream of questions assaulting his consciousness, queries he could barely register as overpowering, almost unrecognizable feelings consumed him.

What is this? Is this… pain? But that’s not possible. Anyone who could hurt me is long gone. Could she be one of Theirs? And what about the others, the foot soldiers? What the hell ever happened to the villains anyway?

Their names flashed in his fractured mind. Misery. (Kathy Bates just came to mind, right?) Captain Swastika. Death Dealer. And a legion of others.

They cast their diseased lot in with The Dark immediately, lured by promises of unlimited power and empires for each of them, to rule as they saw fit. Except that after the heroes lost and the world fell, the villains vanished. As did The Dark themselves.

Not that the world was better off for their supposed absence. Sure, supervillains became extinct, apparently, and rogue nations stopped waging war (most likely because they had suffered too many losses of their own) but street crime became more prevalent than ever. And worse still, any spark of light society had left as a whole seemed to flicker out when the last hero standing in Washington, DC, the Black Terror, collapsed after taking out twenty-five opponents in a final bezerker rage. That left Golden Lad as the final guardian to a planet beyond saving, a watchman who spent every day since asking one question he came to accept would never be answered.

(But enough exposition. Back to the donnybrook!)

Exciting_Comics_9

Not content to merely verbally assault her victim (she’d been doing that for years as mortals register time) Flo renewed her physical attack. A duo of obsidian projectiles rocketed from Flo’s shoulders, each one bound for a separate corner of a metal catwalk.

In seconds the arcane missiles reached their target, expanding as they did so as if some sort of magical AI calculated the size they would need to be to get the job done. Thorny tips shredded a section of the bridge, allowing gravity to take hold. It descended to Tommy Preston’s position twenty feet below until he was buried beneath a mountain of debris.

But Tommy was too preoccupied to pay attention to his imminent doom.

Ŵ€’V€ β€€Ň ĆΔŁŁƗŇǤ ¥ØỮ, ŦØΜΜ¥… βỮŦ ¥ØỮ’V€ β€€Ň ΔŞŁ€€Ƥ.

The message seared its way into his waking thoughts, shattering years of coping mechanisms. He knew he had heard it before, but it was too much to handle, to accept. So, he submerged it under his work, beneath whatever remained of his mission.

But it could be denied no longer.

“I know it may not feel like it now, sweetie, but I’m doing you a favor,” Flo interrupted in a measured, low voice, her tone barely perceptible over the sound of settling rubble and Tommy’s tortured thoughts.

Ŵ€ ҜŇØŴ ŴĦ¥ ¥ØỮ ĐƗĐ ƗŦ… βỮŦ ŦĦ€ ŦƗΜ€ ĦΔŞ ĆØΜ€.

Tommy Preston’s defense to the thunder in his brain was straightforward. “But I… I can’t let you all go! I just can’t!”

Oblivious to her mark’s internal torment, Flo continued. “As it is in every reality, one of you always gets to survive, by Their decree… and you drew the long straw, honeybunch. Consider this a punishment rather than an execution.”

The psychic communiqué burned hotter, liquefying Tommy’s willpower.

ĐƗŞĆĦΔŘǤ€ ỮŞ ₣ŘØΜ ŦĦƗŞ ƤŘƗŞØŇ! ØỮŘ V€ŇǤ€ΔŇĆ€ ƗŞ ŁØŇǤ ØV€ŘĐỮ€!

One last plea was all he had left. “I’ll admit. I always knew… what had to be done… but what happens to this world when its’s over?”

ĦΔV€ ₣ΔƗŦĦ, ǤØŁĐ€Ň ŁΔĐ… ŁƗ₣€ €ŇĐỮŘ€Ş.  ΔŁŴΔ¥Ş.

She stopped monologuing as something suddenly occurred to the dark angel known as Flo. “Wait, can you even hear me? Is super-hearing one of your abilities, my fair-haired boy?”

That question would go unanswered as a roar radiated from below the mass of rubble.

Golden Lad shot free of his makeshift cell, soaring straight up to the storehouse’s ceiling. He lingered for a brief moment, proclaiming a silent prayer for the world he loved before cutting loose with every molecule of mystical horsepower within him.

A battle cry composed of one thousand and one unified voices filled the deserted distribution center.

ŦĦ€ ŦƗΜ€ ₣ØŘ Ř€ŦŘƗβỮŦƗØŇ ĦΔŞ ĆØΜ€, ŦĦŘΔŁŁ Ø₣ ŦĦ€ ĐΔŘҜ!  ŦØĐΔ¥, Ɨ/Ŵ€… ΔŘ€… ǤØŁĐ€Ň ŁΔĐ!

Flo instinctively erected her own arcane barricades, literal shields formed of stygian energy, the stuff of nightmares given form.

They fell in a nanosecond.

On an earth that had been stripped of hope long ago the blackest dark fell before the most luminous light, fluoresce discharged from a broken white knight. Golden Lad convulsed as the supernatural force of one thousand souls flowed through him. Flo screamed until her simulated vocal cords were shredded. In thirteen seconds, she was consumed before being completely incinerated.

(One down…)

Depleted beyond measure, Golden Lad plummeted to the charred floor as exhaustion overtook him. But for this fallen

(literally)

paladin, the end was not here – though it loomed closer than ever…

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Sidestepping Across The Multiverse: Part Four.

Tommy Preston’s mind was roaring as his brain desperately attempted to process the input his bloodshot eyes were delivering.

The tendons in his neck were strained to their limits as he pushed against the telekinetic hold William Nemesis continued to exert against him. He had been pinned to one of the Empire Diner’s aged, cracked walls, one without a direct line of sight to the counter and kitchen where all the action had shifted to. What began as a misunderstanding between two superpowered warriors had become a shocking revelation for one of them, as the real reason the source of Golden Lad’s annoyance and rage had come to this world stood revealed.

As for Nemesis, he was far too preoccupied with backing in his own glory to pay the least bit of attention to the golden age mystery man who was screaming for his blood only moments before.

“I knew you couldn’t resist,” the words escaped his lips through a grin that would have made that cat from Wonderland positively Hulk-like with envy. “All I had to do was get Golden Boy here angry enough to speak Their name for the first time in years and I knew you’d be like flies on the foulest waste ever defecated. What is it with your kind anyway? Why does hearing anyone speak The Dark’s name compel you to break character every… single… time?”

“DON’T YOU DARE!” the waitress formerly known as Flo screamed/spit the warning

(which was far, far too late)

with righteous venom. “YOUR PUTRID LIPS AREN’T FIT TO UTTER THEIR DIVINE DESGINATION!” Gone was her shabby uniform, replaced with an airtight, leather catsuit. Of course, the catsuit wouldn’t have drawn your attention. No, all you would have been drawn to was the rippling, coal-black membrane that had replaced her aged features. It pulsated across her deep-set eyes and full lips. Even her once-lifeless hair pulsated.

As the kids say, it was creepy AF.

Having seen sights even more ghoulish in his lifetime, Nemesis wasn’t thrown by Flo’s true form. And so, his snappy comeback was immediate.

“The Dark! The Dark! The Dark! And oh yeah… The Dark! How do you like them apples, you decrepit, soulless thrall?”

Flo wailed like an animal with a limb caught in a trap that was slowly cutting into its flesh. It was quite unnerving, truth be told.

“ENOUGH! Our calling has been disrupted by this… inconsequential… whelp,” the cosmic slave in black leather – with a visage to match – masquerading as a diner manager the residents of this New York knew as Melvin

(think about it)

shouted. He struggled to even indirectly address Nemesis, so great was his revulsion for the dimension-hopping hero. But he carried on, nevertheless. “Now he must be seized, and his extraordinary capacity merged with that of the others for harvesting.”

The pronouncement was matter-of-fact and direct. Nemesis was nothing more than a fly in their ointment

(but with any luck, he was one that would prove to be useful to their agenda)

one that Flo and Melvin were now dead set on removing – with extreme prejudice.

Their bubbling facial disguises appeared even more grotesque as they smirked while simultaneously leaping over the restaurant’s counter and its hastily abandoned meals, landing six feet away from their prey.

“Nimble little minxes, aren’t you?” was Nemesis’ unimpressed reaction as his new friends began to flank him.

“LET ME GO, MAN!” Tommy Preston pleaded from his perch. “ONLY I REALLY UNDERSTAND JUST WHAT YOU’RE DEALING WITH HERE!”

“No offense, Tommy, but even after all these years you still have no idea what the hell’s going on,” was his counter. “But if you stop all the screaming, we can still team up, okay?”

Tommy in simpler, mind-bending times.

“You’re about to spend an eternity shrieking, stripling. You can leave the man-child where he is… he serves a greater purpose,” was Melvin’s edict.

Fortunately, Nemesis was fully prepared for that statement. “Not anymore, you indentured servant. In fact, this little lunchtime skirmish is the swan song for all of you.”

And with that prediction, Golden Lad found himself extricated from his parapsychological bondage and free to indulge his inconceivable fury.

Superhuman warfare on an unbelievable scale. Casualties in the millions. The corruption of trusted allies, The defilement and murder of his beloved Golden Girl.

All of these events and more could be traced back to the cryptic figures known as The Dark, beings no one on this world had seen for a decade.

Ten years.

Ten years of waiting to truly avenge his lost love. The memory of each of those individual days burned in what remained of Tommy Preston’s soul.

Now, finally, he was in a position to strike back at these demons through their supernatural vassals – and he wasn’t about to waste it.

Ignoring his convenient partner’s plea, Preston howled an incoherent battle cry as he flew at Faux Flo

(I couldn’t resist)

with a bloodlust that had been percolating for 3,652 days. His psyche was a frenzied maelstrom, but a single overwhelming thought penetrated that storm for a nanosecond, setting Tommy on a direct path there would be no turning back from.

He ensnared his adversary in an aerial bearhug. Her onyx covered feet left the linoleum floor as the Lad whisked her out of the Empire Diner and outside into the skies of this variant Big Apple.

“Looks like you’ve got an opening for a server, Mel,” Nemesis remarked as he wiped away a stream of blood from his nose and primed himself for what was sure to be one helluva onslaught.

Literally.

RIP, Golden Girl?
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