Magic is a tricky thing.
It’s not simply a matter of manipulating ancient energies to achieve one’s desires. It’s about establishing the perfect balance between one’s will and the power of creation itself. A simple word can change the entire nature of a spell, transforming it from benevolent to destructive.
It’s all a question of interpretation.
For example, in 1587 a fledgling mystic who was part of the infamous Roanoke Colony on Roanoke Island in what is now Dare County, North Carolina, USA, cast a spell he was certain would protect his people from the harsh conditions and Native American “savages” they were surrounded by. And so, he prepared the incantation and did whatever it is magic types do before they tap into forces beyond their true comprehension. Then he spoke five simple words:
“Let my people know peace.”
Anyone who knows their history knows what happened next. That attempt at supernatural benevolence led down a particularly dark path. From that point on the community became known as the Lost Colony due to the subsequent unexplained disappearance of its population.
So what happened?
Well, personally I believe the would-be savior got exactly what he wanted: from that moment on his people never suffered again in any way. Obviously whatever deity was in a giving mood that day decided life is pain and removed the good people of Roanoke from the equation, thus ending their suffering.
That leads to us to Tommy Preston’s latest predicament. He had to prove himself worthy of passing through a doorway protected by a magical alarm system designed to keep superpowered intruders from penetrating a stronghold’s never center. If he failed, a series of defensive sigils would emit incapacitating voltage, making him the latest victim to wind up one of The Dark’s trophies/snacks.
“𝕺𝖓𝖑𝖞 𝖙𝖍𝖔𝖘𝖊 𝖕𝖚𝖗𝖊 𝖔𝖋 𝖍𝖊𝖆𝖗𝖙 𝖒𝖆y 𝖊𝖓𝖙𝖊𝖗.”
Seems simple enough for a crusader of justice, right? Especially for one who began his career during the golden age of humanity, no?
Tommy didn’t know what the test actually consisted of, only that Nemesis had demanded he speak the truth about those allies Golden Lad had lost when The Dark’s forces conquered his reality. And that’s exactly what he did.
Now he had crossed said threshold and was moving down a bleak, antiseptic hallway at a brisk, entirely human pace – though he had no idea what was going to happen next.
“Would have been nice if you’d told me what to expect once I made it this far, new pal ‘o mine,” Tommy thought as he reached the end of the line, as it were. The passageway ceased to exist, and another cavernous room took its place. A lone, mute caretaker waited for the Lad to make the first move.
But Golden Lad had to get the lay of the land before he could start the game.
Time and space were insignificant, wholly irrelevant concepts, with eighty-six thousand square feet filling a space designed to hold one-fourth that size. The open-concept space was unnervingly silent – almost. Buzzing fluorescent lights cast their luminescence over one hundred metal gurneys, each one holding a seemingly lifeless figure.
The room’s sole conscious occupant stepped from the few shadows present
(darkness seemed to cling to him)
and allowed himself to be scrutinized.
“I… know you,” Tommy’s voice was weak, raspy, tinged with shock and disbelief. You… you were the first of us. Some say even said you were the best of us all.” He didn’t have the words to articulate his emotions. Until he found a few that he prayed would lead to an answer.
“How? How did you fall so far?”
The imposing gentlemen in the blue gray three-piece suit, pitch-black fedora and equally dark curtain mask that obscured his entire face, was more than ready for the query. In fact, he provided the same answer he had delivered hundreds of times prior to this moment.
“You say I’ve fallen… but I prefer to say I’ve risen to heights our kind could never dream possible. We fancied ourselves gods… but here…” he strolled between two stretchers, taping the metallic rails on both simultaneously.
“Here I am a god.”
On November 13th, 1936, this world was introduced to the first costumed crimefighter to take up the battle against the forces of evil on American shores. A master of disguise, he employed an arsenal of gadgets to stop his foes dead in their tracks and left behind a calling card bearing the image of a clock-face over a domino mask, the words “The Clock Has Struck” or “The Clock Will Strike At…” scrawled across its center.
Beneath the cloak he was Brian O’Brien
(it was the Golden Age of comic books, don’t blame me)
an obscenely rich, respected member of high society, but to the criminal underworld and his peers he was the archetype, the standard by which all mystery men and women were to be measured.
Golden Lad never knew just why the The Clock took up the “good fight”, truthfully it never really mattered. But in this moment, he’d have given anything to know why this once incorruptible protector of the innocent switched sides when it mattered most.
“I’m afraid you’re not going to get the answers you’re so hungry for, Preston,” The Clock’s voice was soothing, rhythmic, almost hypnotic. He advanced to Tommy’s position like a snake slithering upon its prey. “Nor are you going to save any of our former peers. In fact, by removing my… employers’ remaining acolytes, all you and your new allies have done is upset the Balance so grievously this whole world is about to fall into the abyss!” he announced with righteous fury, his gloved fists balled into weapons aching to be unleashed. “How the hell did you even pass the test anyway? Your heart isn’t made of pure darkness!”
Remember what I said about interpretation?
A wave or realization rolled across Tommy’s besieged consciousness but was quickly eradicated as The Clock raised his left hand and released a stream of crimson lightning that knocked the disillusioned golden age hero off his feet.
(Sheev Palpatine would have been proud.)
The average human being’s nerve centers offer very little resistance to the passage of an electric current. When nerves are overcome by an electric shock, the results include intense pain, tingling, numbness, weakness or difficulty controlling one’s limbs. When a shock occurs, the victim may be dazed or may experience amnesia, seizure or respiratory arrest. This type of damage can also cause psychiatric disorders.
(I wonder if this is what happened to the Trumps?)
The Lad struggled to force his body to rise up against this unrelenting onslaught, but this battle wouldn’t be won with physical force.
“There’s no shame in surrendering, Preston,” The Clock pleaded with his former contemporary. “You’re the last man standing… so to speak. You’ve fought longer and harder than all these…” he waved his right hand around, pointing out the slumbering paladins surrounding them. “Has-beens.”
That did it.
A spark ignited deep in Tommy Preston’s core. A symphony of familiar whispers, speaking as one, filled his consciousness and soon began to roar.
“𝒲𝑒 𝒽𝒶𝓋𝑒 𝓈𝓁𝑒𝓅𝓉 𝒻𝑜𝓇 𝓉𝑜𝑜 𝓁𝑜𝓃𝑔, 𝒹𝓇𝑜𝓌𝓃𝑒𝒹 𝒶𝓃𝒹 𝒸𝒽𝑜𝓀𝒾𝓃𝑔 𝒾𝓃 𝓉𝒽𝑒 𝒹𝒶𝓇𝓀𝓃𝑒𝓈𝓈. 𝒯𝒽𝑒 𝓉𝒾𝓂𝑒 𝒽𝒶𝓈 𝒸𝑜𝓂𝑒. 𝒴𝑜𝓊𝓇 𝓉𝒾𝓂𝑒 𝒽𝒶𝓈 𝒸𝑜𝓂𝑒 𝒶𝓉 𝓁𝒶𝓈𝓉. 𝒫𝓊𝓉 𝒶𝓈𝒾𝒹𝑒 𝓎𝑜𝓊𝓇 𝓈𝒽𝒶𝓂𝑒 𝒶𝓃𝒹 𝓇𝑒𝑔𝓇𝑒𝓉. 𝒩𝑜𝓌… 𝒶𝒸𝒸𝑒𝓅𝓉 𝑜𝓊𝓇 𝑜𝒻𝒻𝑒𝓇𝒾𝓃𝑔 𝒶𝓃𝒹 𝓁𝒾𝑔𝒽𝓉 𝑜𝓊𝓇 𝒹𝒶𝓇𝓀𝑒𝓈𝓉 𝒽𝑜𝓊𝓇.”
“You’re… right, O’Brien,” Tommy stammered, clenching his fists and bringing himself into a kneeling position. “I have outfought… everyone around me. But let’s face it… that’s because your masters didn’t consider me a threat… and more… importantly… they needed me to maintain this so-called Balance.” The Lad wheezed as he rose to his feet, wavering like a newborn calf as he did. “But if this really is the end… I’m going to go out on my feet… you damn turncoat!”
The Clock ended his blitz out of sheer confoundment – and perhaps even a little respect. Not that it kept him from holding his position.
“Look at you, Preston… fighting to the bitter, last breath. But the fact remains, your power is long gone, my friend.”
A low, virtually invisible radiance emerged from the comatose champions.
“You know what I’ve always loved about our line of work, Clock?” Tommy said as he lumbered forward, his strength fading further with each step. He was running on fumes – and hope. “Wiping that smug look off the bad guy’s face after they’ve finally finished monologuing.”
The weak light became a glow. The glow became a series of beams of incandescent light aimed directly at the golden age warrior.
“The Heart of Gold was once an object of unbelievable power whose true nature I denied – but no more. It took the suffering of an entire civilization, a broken people, and fed it to me, a damn child… but against their will.”
Lumbering steps became steady and focused.
“No more. I’m not that child anymore. And those people are gone forever… but others are taking their place. My brothers and sisters have risen… and they’re offering me their power… without hesitation and of their own free will.”
Golden Lad shone once again, with the intensity and rage of a thousand white hot suns. He left the floor and levitated above his fellow-guardian-turned-jailer.
“Your time, Clock… has run out.”
Great job, Hook. You’re keeping the awesomeness coming.
I’m trying, Revis.
I’ve been dealing with a crisis of confidence, but I’m still swinging.
Better and better, Mr. Hook, better and better.
I really needed to read that, Doug, thanks.