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!)
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.
Depleted beyond measure, Golden Lad plummeted to the charred floor as exhaustion overtook him. But for this fallen
paladin, the end was not here – though it loomed closer than ever…