Revelations

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

The Holy Bible, Book of Revelation 6:8

Mosque_at_sunset
The sun sets behind the Süleymaniye Mosque

The sun had just set on the tourist-choked streets of Istanbul. Nyssa Tarchaniotes rose from the antique canopy bed, the Egyptian cotton sheet gliding across her porcelain skin like a lover’s caress. She padded barefoot across the cool marble floor to the wardrobe and selected a black silk abaya delicately embroidered with stars along the hem and neckline. As she slipped the robe over her head, familiar chanting drifted into her bedroom on the evening breeze – the Imam from the nearby Süleymaniye Mosque reciting the Maghrib prayer.

To her, Istanbul had not changed perceptibly in the nearly three thousand years she had lived there. Of course, it had been called many things over time – from Byzantium, named after Byzas, her long dead father, to Constantinople under the reign of the sanctimonious Constantine the Great to the name by which the city is now known. Architecture and other such trappings of civilization too had changed whether due to fashion, war or natural disaster. Yet, the quintessence of Istanbul – the thing that had remained unaltered despite the relentless march of time – was that it was a crossroads through which everyone would eventually travel. Although cloaked from view by ancient magicks, her home was much like Istanbul in that everyone in need of guidance would eventually cross the threshold of her home.

There was a tentative knock on her bedroom door.

“<Come.(*)>”

Mehmet, her manservant of nearly fifty years, trudged into the chamber as she was brushing her waist-length, raven-black hair, his head bowed as a token of respect. And fear.

“<The querent is early, I see.>” She rose from the gilt vanity table and turned to her servant. “<Show her into the Augury after I have taken my place.>”

Bowing meekly, Mehmet backed out of the room and closed the ornate Neoclassical doors behind him, grateful that he was no longer in her presence. Catching a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror, Tarchaniotes’ expression darkened. Memories of a life now nothing more than dust filled her mind.

Despite the wealth of her family and her exceptional beauty, she had been neither spoiled nor vain. Rather than seeking to marry and start a family as many of her peers had already done, she had chosen to lead a sober, almost monastic, life. At the age of fifteen, she had left her home in the Grecian port city of Megara with her parent’s reluctant blessings to heed the call of Apollo. Like other young women blessed with the gift of prophecy, she was inexorably drawn to Delphi to serve in His temple. In time, she was chosen to become the Pythia – the High Priestess – of His oracle, a mantle she assumed with piety and solemnity. Her reward for her many years of humble, selfless service was rape and death at the hands of a vrikolaka – the ancient precursor of the modern vampire.

ancient_greece
Map of Ancient Greece, Byzantium at top right

Rising three days later from the shallow grave in which the creature had interred her, she discovered to her horror that she had become an unclean mockery of life. What was far worse than the gnawing hunger for blood she now felt was that she could no longer feel the voice of Apollo resonate within her. For months, she wandered the countryside a pariah, subsisting on the blood of livestock by night and taking refuge in caves by day. Her nocturnal existence soon weighed so heavily on her that she decided to return to Megara and her parents in the hopes that the torment she felt could somehow be assuaged. She tried desperately to drown her blood lust in prayer and supplication but, one evening, the drive to feed simply became too strong to resist. In a lunatic frenzy, she had savaged her sister and mother before her father could bring her to bay. A few days later, the thing that had once been Nyssa Tarchaniotes and a heartbroken Byzas set sail for Anatolia – what would one day become known as Turkey – never to return to Greece.

wheel_of_hecate
The pendant worn by Tarchaniotes, featuring the Wheel of Hecate

Tarchaniotes had reached the threshold of the Augury without realizing that she had taken a single step. Setting her hand upon the silver pendant adorned with the symbol of the witch-goddess Hecate, she entered the small chamber to find that the querent was already seated at the scrying table. She smiled curtly at the old Caucasian woman, making a mental note to give Mehmet a stern reminder of when people are shown into the Augury. She glided across the polished onyx floor like a wraith and took a seat in the high-back wooden chair across from the querent.

“I am the Seer.” intoned Tarchaniotes dramatically.

“Pleased to meet you,” the silver-haired woman replied courteously, extending a liver-spotted hand. “My name’s Abigail Morgenstern.”

Tarchaniotes stared flatly at the proffered hand. “Please, present your offering so we can begin,” offered Tarchaniotes helpfully.

“Of course,” the elderly woman chuckled. Smiling apologetically, she placed an amber-tinted graduated bottle containing a pint of her blood onto the white marble table top.

Tarchaniotes picked up the glass bottle and removed the stopper, the unusually heady aroma of the woman’s blood filling the Augury. “You do understand that, once I have answered your question and partaken of your blood, you are bound to never act against me?”

“I do, dearie,” the woman replied, the smile on her face never faltering.

Tarchaniotes’ eyes narrowed in suspicion. Only the most adept in the mystic arts could see through the illusions that concealed her house yet this woman looked like she should be home baking cookies for her grandchildren rather than consulting a seer with such frivolity.

“<My child, I assure you I take this endeavor quite seriously.(**)>”

Tarchaniotes leapt to her feet. “<Reveal yourself!>” she hissed.

The image of the kindly grandmother wavered like a heat mirage and disappeared. In the aged woman’s place sat the goddess Themis.

“<What game are you playing, Titan,>” Tarchaniotes asked, cautiously taking her seat at the scrying table.

“<This is no game,>” pledged Themis, her voice as grave as a heart attack. “<The reason I have come is to… avail myself of your unique services.>”

Tarchaniotes smirked, the tips of her fangs visible behind her full ruby lips. “<As you know, my gift of second sight pales before yours. Why would the Goddess of Prophecy—>”

“<Mind your tongue!>” commanded Themis, her voice like the peal of thunder. “<You have seen what will come to pass, have you not?>”

“<Yes, my Lady,>” answered Tarchaniotes deferentially.

Themis smiled. “<Ask yourself this: when Death reigns over the Kingdoms of Men and Gods, how can one such as you survive?>”

This was a question Tarchaniotes had asked herself often since receiving the vision of the End of All Things. For a while, she had toyed with the notion of demanding passage to another plane of existence from one of the many thaumaturgists who were bound by geas to her. Yet, she knew that she could not abandon her home dimension because, by doing so, she would sever herself from the wellspring of her power. Death would inevitably follow. She had pondered accepting the eventuality of death – to journey to Tartarus and spend eternity among the damned – but could not because, although her existence was a curse, such a fate would undoubtedly be worse.

Perhaps the Titan had a third option?

“<My Lady, you know as do I that the fate of this world is sealed.>” Tarchaniotes closed her eyes, recalling the words of the prophecy she had uttered so many centuries before:

<What the fates have decreed,

God and Man must abide.

The Sun shall devour the Moon,

And Chronos shall devour himself.

On that Eve, all that lives,

Shall become the thralls of Death.>

“<Child, I have not come to learn of the future,>” began Themis, interrupting Tarchaniotes’ ruminations. “<but to enlist your aid in altering it.>

* Translated from the Turkish
** Translated from the Ancient Greek

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When Angela Buckham was a child, she had no inkling that no one around her could do what she could. She had always assumed that they could read the thoughts of others or manipulate objects from a distance just like she could but simply chose to hide their talents for some unfathomable reason. When she discovered that she was the exception and not the rule, however, she chose to keep her talents a secret even from her parents. She had peered into the minds of enough people to understand how intolerant they could be of the strange or the different.

Despite her attempts to blend in, she was met with reservation by most adults and outright enmity by all of her peers, who, sensing her otherness, ostracized her often in the most hurtful manner possible. Even her father, Robert Buckham, starting goaltender for Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, felt unease in her presence. Although she adored him more than words could say, he would make excuse after excuse to avoid spending any time alone with her. In contrast, her mother, Mary, showed her nothing but unconditional love and acceptance. Mary would hold her tightly in her arms and sing to Angela when she returned from school, hot tears streaming down her face after being called every vile epithet imaginable. Sometimes, as she rocked her daughter gently in her arms, Mary would cry too as if the pain her daughter felt was her own.

ant_hill
The ant hill that so fascinated young Angela Buckham

One balmy summer evening, eight-year-old Angela discovered a thriving ant hill on the periphery of her mother’s garden. She spent hours watching the scurrying ants emerge from the recesses of the anthill in search of food and building materials and return laden with provisions only to repeat the cycle moments later. She was intrigued by how harmoniously the disparate members of the colony functioned and wondered why human society never approximated such a degree of order. The question nagged at her so much that she could not leave it unanswered a moment longer.

Holding her favorite teddy bear firmly in a plump hand, Angela opened the screen door and ambled into the kitchen. She would have asked her father to explain the mystery to her but he was away for a big match against Nottingham Forest. Closing her eyes, she extended her thoughts outwards in search of her mother but she need not have bothered – she would be in front of the telly in the living room. Her father didn’t like his wife going out while he was out of town and what Robert Buckham did not like simply did not happen.

Mary was sitting in the living room watching one of her favorite television series, The Third Man, a Benson and Hedges held tightly between tobacco-stained fingers. She was reaching for the tumbler of Glenkinchie on ice on the oak end table when Angela approached her.

“Mummy, why aren’t people…” Angela’s question died on her lips when she caught sight of the angry scarlet contusion surrounding Mary’s left eye – a parting gift from her father.

Mary put her whiskey down and regarded Angela silently for the longest time, the swollen flesh nearly forcing her eye shut. She attempted to smile reassuringly.

“What would you like for supper, sweetheart,” she asked brightly, breaking the awkward silence. “Would you fancy some spaghetti with meat sauce,” Mary asked as she rose from the armchair, her immaculately-pressed, emerald-green, swing dress swishing gently as she moved.

Angela grabbed her mother’s hand before she could move towards the kitchen. Mary hesitated before looking down into Angela’s steel-blue eyes.

“Why does daddy hurt you,” Angela asked earnestly, tears welling up in her eyes as another question broke the surface of her consciousness. “Why does he hate us?”

Mary squatted down, her eyes level with her daughter’s. “He’s— he’s— having a hard season, luv,” she began hesitantly, unsure whether her lie would sound convincing. “If the club can’t hold onto their ranking in the First Division, he’s afraid he’ll get sacked so—”

“Stop lying to me, Mummy!” Angela cried, pulling away from her mother. “Daddy’s been hurting you… he’s been hurting us for years!”

Mary Buckham’s eyes went blank, her jaw slack.

In that moment, the answer to her question was revealed to her. It was not a quality inherent in humanity that precluded them from living in harmony with each other. Rather, it was the absence of a trait in human society that was at the root of the senseless pain around her – there was no singular will powerful enough to impose order on the chaos around it as the queen ant does on the thousands of drones comprising her colony.

“Spaghetti sounds lovely,” Angela said softly as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “Go start dinner and I’ll come along once I finish up in the garden.”

Her mother straightened up and made her way as woodenly as a puppet to the kitchen, Angela following closely behind. As Mary went about preparing the meal wordlessly, she walked through the screen door to the garden and retraced her steps to the anthill. She looked down at the insects skittering to-and-fro, completely oblivious to her presence. She closed her eyes and projected her thoughts outwards, her mind seeking the alien clicks indicative of the rudimentary brains the ants possessed. Satisfied that she had located every single ant in the colony, she psychokinetically compressed the exoskeletons protecting their internal organs until they liquefied and erupted outwards, killing the insects instantly.

www.freepix4all.com
Zombies roam loose in Millennium City

Now, years later, Angela Buckham was looking at a very different kind of ant hill. Safe behind the barrier her superpowered thralls formed, she watched from the rooftop of the Millennium City Museum of Natural History as what seemed like an endless stream of once-human creatures clawed their way through dirt and concrete until they emerged onto the eerily-deserted streets below. The mindless revenants would then shamble off, often in large groups numbering thirty or more, in search of brains if Hollywood was to be believed. She asked herself whether tonight’s experiment had somehow served as the catalyst for this macabre turn of events.

When she usurped the leadership of RAPTURE in 1993 and severed its ties with the British government the following year, her agenda had been a straightforward yet ambitious one: to discover the underlying connection between the “precious gifts” people like her possessed and the “magic” wielded by some metahumans. She had become convinced that, despite being couched in the nonsensical language of the occult, the abilities so-called magicians used were nothing more than cruder variations of hers. Yet, they could manipulate reality in novel and often astounding ways – ways that were paradoxically beyond her. Once these formidable secrets were unlocked and added to hers, she could then launch her campaign to cleanse the globe of Homo sapiens and pave the way for mutantkind to inherit a brave, new world – a world under her control, of course.

To achieve her goal, she would need test subjects. Unfortunately, the metahuman population in Europe paled compared to that of the United States. Consequently, she relocated RAPTURE to Ravenswood Academy in Millennium City to take advantage of its burgeoning numbers of metahumans. Over the next twenty years, little headway had been made to either confirm or refute her hypothesis, a fact which infuriated her to no end. When one test subject disclosed how powerful the artifact called the Spear of Destiny truly was, the vestiges of a plan formed. She soon laid the groundwork for what would become Project Sleepwalker. However, not only did it fail miserably but the forces unleashed also set in motion horrors she could never have anticipated.

Mistress, I’ve got some important news,” the mole she had planted in the Squadron Supreme said via psionic link.

If it’s about your encounter with Doctor Arcane, I’m already aware—

Members of the Squadron eXtreme are fightin’ a creature in Westside,” Ultraviolet Cherry interrupted. “Initial reports indicate some kinda super-zombie!

What of it?” Buckham snapped, annoyed at the little twit’s presumption.

Mistress, it seems ta me that things’re escalatin’ pretty quickly.” There was a momentary pause. “Maybe you should get outta there?

Buckham was about to tear into the young telepath when a tremor shook the ground. “Perhaps you’re right, dear Madi. Inform security that I’m returning to the Claremont Building with… some new friends. Keep me informed of any further developments.

Of course, Mistress.

Bearing herself and her puppets aloft in a bubble of telekinetic force, Buckham headed downtown moments before pandemonium erupted.

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The Shroud landed hard on the black BMW sedan, its windows exploding as the roof collapsed. Before she could shake off the cobwebs, a hand as undeniable as a vice clamped onto her left ankle and jerked her unceremoniously to the ground. She rolled to the right seconds before a massive boot would have crushed her skull. She sprang to her feet, removing a flash-bang micro-pellet from the hidden compartment on the left forearm of her costume. In one fluid motion, the Shroud launched herself upwards and backwards while tossing the miniature explosive at her lumbering opponent. She landed on her feet as it went off, temporarily halting the inexorable advance of her enemy.

Despite the Shroud’s best efforts, the costumed couple that had appeared moments after the woman named Themis had teleported her to Millennium City were convinced that she had murdered their friend, the Black Cat. She was certain that the star-spangled pair was new to the superhuman scene or she would have heard of them. The Shroud made it her business to know everything she could about the players in the metahuman community – fighting unknown quantities was a severe tactical disadvantage.

Better get my head in the game before they knock it off my shoulders!

Despite being a skilled fighter, the woman going by the name Maiden America apparently had no superpowers. Major Victor, her hulking boyfriend, was another matter entirely. He was neither as fast nor as agile as the Shroud was but he was definitely stronger and more durable. The two seemed to be well-versed in team tactics: Maiden America would keep her off-balance so that Major Victor could press the attack. Judging from the assorted contusions, a fractured jaw and several cracked ribs, their strategy had been quite effective so far. She had to even the odds quickly or she would lose this fight.

The telltale buzzing of her danger sense warned her of imminent attack. Maiden America was closing in from her left while the big guy was shaking off the effects of the flash-bang. Feigning a bout of intense pain, the Shroud lured her foe in. Keeping a close watch on her partner, she waited for her opponent to commit herself to an attack. A split second before Maiden America could land a vicious roundhouse punch, the Shroud sidestepped the blow.

“Up and at ‘em, Major,” Maiden America managed to shout before the Shroud’s elbow connected with her chin, knocking her out.

“Dat tears it, toots!” bellowed Major Victor as he charged at the Shroud. “If she’s hoit, I’m gonna tear ya apart!”

“You’re boring me, Major Buzzkill,” the Shroud retorted.

Can’t pull any punches with this guy or I’m toast.

The Shroud stood her ground as Major Victor hurtled towards her. A heartbeat before the bone-shattering collision, she leapfrogged over him. Straightening her body in mid-air, she rammed both heels into the base of the man’s skull. The force of the blow sent her dazed opponent crashing headlong through the steel-reinforced south wall of the Schwartz Building. The only sound coming from inside the darkened interior of the deserted building was the soft tinkle of fragmented masonry falling to the marble floor. Before she had a chance to savor her victory, the Shroud was engulfed in a dense column of smoke.

It looks like my other playmate’s packing toys.

Her danger sense more than making up for the momentary loss of visibility, the Shroud turned to face Maiden America as she sprinted towards her. Her grim smile concealed by the full face mask she now wore, the Shroud was about to pounce on her when she sensed an attack coming from behind. She cartwheeled to the left, narrowly dodging the cast iron lamp post the recovered Major Victor had torn out of the street to bludgeon her with.

Maiden America was not so fortunate.

Although the makeshift bat had struck a glancing blow just under Maiden America’s left ear, the impact was sufficient to snap her neck like dry kindling. She toppled to the ground like a rag doll.

“No!” howled Major Victor in despair as he rushed towards his injured teammate. Pushing past the Shroud, he knelt down beside the dying woman. “I’m… I’m… so sorry,” he sobbed, “Don’t leave me, doll face.”

“Listen, she’s still alive. We can—” the Shroud slurred, her injury making it difficult to speak.

Major Victor cocked his head towards her, fury flashing in his eyes like a distant storm. “Dis was all yer fault!” he snarled, gently scooping up Maiden America’s limp form “I outta kill ya right now but she comes foist.”

With that, leg muscles like steel springs catapulted him north-east towards City Hall, Maiden America cradled in his arms like a sleeping child. The Shroud was about to launch herself into the air in pursuit of the duo when the ground beneath her shook. At first, it felt like nothing more than a mild tremor but, before it had subsided, an even more powerful one rocked Millennium City. She took to the air as a third shockwave jolted the city. The ground shuddered like a frightened animal and the skyscrapers swayed like saplings in a tempest.

“Shroud to AIDA, what the hell’s happening?”

“Our geoscience sensors have detected twelve independent epicenters of seismic activity scattered around the city.”

“Is that even possible?”

“The statistical likelihood is—”

“‘Improbable, I get it,” the Shroud interrupted. “Postulate probable cause.”

“Field Team Epsilon was returning to Millennium City prior to engaging an unknown entity in Westside 2.35 minutes ago. Similar seismic activity was recorded prior to the entity’s appearance.”

“Get me eyes on Epsilon!”

The small holographic projector on the comm-link on her wrist came to life, displaying an image of the battle between Field Team Epsilon and a chillingly familiar figure. The creature was wearing little more than filthy, tattered rags but the belt around its waist was intact. Double-tapping on the holographic display to freeze the image, she zoomed in on the belt buckle. Despite picture degradation, the Shroud could make out a capital letter H inscribed on the oval buckle. Through the mist of childhood memory, she recalled a name now all-but forgotten.

“Johnny Hercules,” whispered the Shroud incredulously as she banked south-east towards the Westside docks.

Tens of thousands of innocent people and scores of metahumans including Johnny Hercules lost their lives in the summer of 1992 when Dr. Destroyer unleashed an orbital bombardment cannon on the city of Detroit. The city was laid to waste and its charred remains would have become a macabre testimony to one man’s madness had state and federal authorities not pledged to rebuild. A handful of years after the Battle of Detroit, the Millennium City she knew and had come to love was born, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the decimated city. Yet, buried alongside twisted steel and shattered concrete in that mass grave were nearly seventy thousand corpses.

The tremors suddenly stopped. A chill ran up her spine.

It’s the calm before the storm.

As if to verify her observation, the pavement two blocks away exploded upwards as the rock and earth beneath it burst its way to the surface, sending slabs of asphalt the size of automobiles skywards. For a brief moment, the cloud of debris hung motionless in the air like a swarm of angry bees before it came crashing back to earth.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” the Shroud blurted. “AIDA, send reinforcements to Epsilon. I’m going to investigate the nearest disturbance.”

“The Scarlet Sorcerer was dispatched to assist Epsilon 1.35 minutes ago. His life functions were terminated almost immediately.”

Although AIDA would surprise even the Shroud with occasional glimmers of human-like behavior, it was times like these that reminded her that her AI left much to be desired.

“Creatures similar to the entity Epsilon is battling are emerging from all twelve seismic epicenters, including the one on your current heading.”

“Run all biometric recognition search engines on the thirteen entities. Compare results with all metahumans killed in the Battle of Detroit.”

map_bloodmoon.png
The location of the thirteen resurrected superheroes

There was a brief pause. “All thirteen entities return positive matches.”

“Sound EMCON 3,” began the Shroud dourly. “Upload emergency response protocols to each Field Leader’s comm-link. Base field assignments on the postulated identities of hostiles established by previous search results.”

“Affirmative, Shroud. You are heading towards the location where the hostile designated ‘Flechette’ has emerged.”

The Shroud landed on the fifteenth floor of a skyscraper under construction across the street from her quarry. Skimming across the unfinished floor as silently as a shadow, she crouched behind a support column on the north-west corner of the building. The mockery of the hero once known as Flechette stood on the summit of the kilometer-high mound, wailing maniacally into the night. She hoped that she would not have to engage him until backup arrived. Although the bruising and cracked ribs had almost completely healed, the fractured jaw still jabbed hot knives into her skull whenever she moved.

The Shroud activated the holographic GUI function of her comm-link. Her fingers gliding deftly across the virtual keyboard, she first established real-time video surveillance on Flechette. She then checked on the status of the Field Teams dispatched to the disturbances around Millennium City. Eight teams, a few of whose numbers had been bolstered by other metahumans, had engaged their targets. Three teams had already suffered losses.

No time to mourn the fallen, Jones.

As her target seemed to be more interested in howling at the moon than causing mayhem, she scoured all available databases for any information on him. What both UNTIL and PRIMUS had on Flechette was sparse to say the least. The second man to bear the name Flechette, small-time thug turned vigilante Frank Fletcher had no metahuman abilities but was a skilled hand-to-hand combatant and military strategist. Other than the fact that he was best-known for the amount of firepower he would take into combat with him, that was all there was on him. The Shroud felt a twinge of sadness that Fletcher had made the ultimate sacrifice only to become a mere footnote.

Flechette
Flechette opens fire

The deafening shrieks of the revenant abruptly ceased. The insect drone of her danger sense reached a fever pitch. Flechette spun towards her position, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher materializing in his hand. The Shroud lunged into the void just as the projectile struck home, obliterating the steel-reinforced column she had hidden behind. Twisting in mid-air to right herself, she landed at the base of the mound with the grace of a jungle cat.

“You pity me, little girl?” jeered the creature.

“Of course not,” she replied, drawing the molybdenum-injected Escrima sticks from their thigh holsters. “I haven’t put you back in the ground yet!”

Flechette cackled. “I love a girl dat plays rough!”

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Like all twelve-year-olds, Arcana loved the summer holidays. While other children her age would play baseball in Kubert Park or hang out at the shopping center in downtown Jerusalem’s Lot, the Arcanatis children did things differently. Every summer, Arcana and her brother Tony would spend July with her maternal grandparents in the Crowley ancestral estate in Seven Heads, Ireland, and August with their father’s parents on their farm near the small town of Kalavryta in his native Greece.

Arcana enjoyed holidaying with her grandparents not only because of the place they held inside her heart but also because their lives were infinitely less complicated than her parents’. She relished August most of all. She would wake up before dawn and help her grandfather Ioanni tend the livestock. In the meantime, her grandmother Helena would milk the cows, feed the chickens in the henhouse her father had built years before and collect fresh eggs for their breakfast. At eleven o’clock, her grandfather would go to the local kafeneio – a small café frequented by the older men in town – and argue good-naturedly about politics and football until it was time for lunch. Arcana and her brother would help their grandmother prepare lunch, her brother showing an aptitude for cooking that surprised and delighted his grandmother to no end. By half past one, her grandparents and Tony would have retired for an afternoon nap, like almost everyone else in Greece did as the young Arcana believed.

holocaust_memorial
The Holocaust Memorial serves as a grim reminder of the extermination of the male population and total destruction of the town of Kalavryta by German occupying forces on 13 December, 1943

She had never got into the habit of afternoon siesta and preferred to spend her time exploring the village and its surroundings on her bicycle. One afternoon, her afternoon expedition had taken her to the Holocaust Memorial situated a few kilometers north-east of town. Built to commemorate the slaughter of every male aged twelve or older by the Nazis, it stood on a hill overlooking the town, the massive white marble cross clearly visible from anywhere in town day or night. She stood solemnly at the base of the cross, her eyes transfixed on the sleeping town below. It was odd that she felt such peace in a place where so many had died such violent and senseless deaths.

Return to your vessel, the wind seemed to whisper.

She was about to mount her bicycle and head back to her grandparents’ house when she noticed blood seeping through the green cotton sundress her grandfather had just bought her. Her eyes widened in shock as the blood trickled slowly down her inner thighs. Horrified by the onset of menstruation, Arcana was about to run screaming down the hill when she spied a young boy around her age standing beneath one of the fir trees ringing the monument. His dark eyes held hers.

“<Where are you going,(***)>” the boy asked, walking slowly towards her.

“<Please,>” Arcana implored, “<I’ve got to get back home.>”

“<There’s nothing to fear,>” the pallid boy said, his face now mere centimeters from hers. “<You’ve become a woman. You’ll make me a fine wife.>”

Arcana’s blood ran cold.

Return to your vessel, urged the voice, now more clearly.

“<Please, let me pass,>” she begged, “<Can’t you see I’m bleeding?!>” She held up her blood-slick hands for him to see.

The boy chortled, “<These hills have been drenched in blood. What’s a few more drops?”

“<I’ve got to get back home,>” Arcana repeated weakly.

“<Your place is here,>” he responded, his cold hand caressing her cheek. “<With us.>”

The ashen flesh of dozens of rotting corpses suddenly pressed in on her, the stench of their fetid breath making her gag.

Return to your vessel, Arcana Arcanatis! cried the voice.

Arcana sat bolt upright, her sea-green eyes wide with shock. She was sitting on the floor of her living room, a young woman dressed in a sleeveless black gown and matching hooded cloak kneeling beside her.

“Rest for a moment while I heal your father’s injury for you will both need your strength before the dawn.”

Arcana wiped the drying froth from the side of her mouth with the back of her hand, “Who are you?”

“You may call me Cloak,” she said simply as she knelt beside Doctor Arcane.

The recollection of her experience flooded Arcana’s thoughts like a tidal wave. “I died,” she concluded.

Cloak nodded.

“But I couldn’t move on.” Arcana broke out in gooseflesh.

Cloak remained silent, her body bristling with energy black as pitch. A moment later, she removed her hands from Doctor Arcane’s chest and stood up, visibly drained. To Arcana’s joy, her father’s eyelids fluttered open and he began to stir.

“Let us move him to the couch,” the mysterious Cloak suggested. “He will recover but he will be terribly weak for a while.”

The two women helped Doctor Arcane back to his feet.

“The Witchfinder must’ve followed me here,” Arcane began, his cheeks flush with shame, “I’m so sorry, dear heart,” After Arcana cast a small spell to make the shards of glass littering the sofa disappear, he sat down. “My carelessness could’ve gotten us both killed.”

Arcana sat down next to her father and hugged him tightly. “It doesn’t matter now. Thanks to our young friend, we’re both fine.”

The faint rustling of the wind through the leaves of the plants on the terrace inexplicably stopped, as if the earth itself had suddenly held its breath. Cloak walked purposefully towards the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Lake St. Clair. She gazed at the moon hanging serenely in the night sky for a few moments, her hands clasped behind her back. The baleful silence yawned before them like the mouth of some ravenous animal. Then, almost imperceptibly at first, the pale light of the moon began to wane as its orbit slowly brought it in line with the penumbral shadow of the Earth.

Cloak finally broke the eerie stillness. “The Moon has entered the mouth of the Dragon,” she began with grim finality, “The reign of man nears its end.”

“The Voynich Prophecy!” Doctor Arcane exclaimed.

lunar_nodes
The star chart detailing the lunar nodes as seen in Doctor Arcane’s copy of the Voynich manuscript

He raised his right hand into the air and muttered a short incantation. As his daughter watched, a time-weathered codex shimmered into existence, floating ethereally before the elder sorcerer. The pages of the leather-bound book began turning of their own volition until a section roughly in its middle was reached.

The page on the left featured an illustration Arcana recognized as a map of the heavens. The star chart detailed the course of the Moon around the Earth, the points where the Moon’s orbit crossed the ecliptic demarcated by the ancient symbols of Caput Draconis and Cauda Draconis – the Head and Tail of the Dragon respectively. She leaned forward to take a closer look at the densely-written page on the right her father was studying but could not even recognize the script used despite her extensive knowledge of several languages.

“My God,” said Doctor Arcane, the color draining from his face.

Arcana shuddered. “What does it say?”

Doctor Arcane translated the passage for his daughter:

When the Daughter of Death walks the land once more,

And the Moon enters the mouth of the Dragon,

Man’s reign over Earth shall see its final hour,

For the dead shall rise to supplant the living.

Cloak turned away from the window and regarded Doctor Arcane. “I am she of whom the prophecy speaks, Ioannis Arcanatis.” She bowed her head in shame, “I am the daughter of Takofanes.”

*** Translated from the Modern Greek

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Witchfinder, The

witchfinder
Photograph taken of Blain moments before engaging Doctor Arcane outside Boston in 2006.

One night, eight year old Jeremy Blaine’s comfortable, middle-class childhood came crashing down. He and his parents were caught in Takofanes’s debut march across the United States. The Archlich slew Blaine ’s parents and reanimated them as part of his army of the dead. Perhaps Takofanes didn’t see him cowering behind a dumpster; perhaps he simply didn’t need a child zombie. Nevertheless, Blaine was spared the fate of his parents.

That meeting with Takofanes taught Blaine that devils walked the night, and the worst of all were the devils in human form who treated with the Dark Powers. He lost his parents to magic but he could stop the magicians from claiming any more victims by killing them all first.

Blaine grew up in foster care. He became a top student and star athlete in high school, but he turned down all the offers he received from college recruiters. On his eighteenth birthday, he inherited his parents’ modest savings and used the money for a five-year trip around the world. He visited private libraries and esoteric sages, martial arts trainers and weaponsmiths. At the end of his journey, he was ready to begin his life’s work.

Blaine assumed the guise of the Witchfinder. His goal was to purge all magic from the world – kill the wizards, set fire to their scrolls and manuscripts, destroy their artifacts and burn down their sanctums – or die trying. He saw all supernatural creatures as pawns of magicians, and tried to destroy them as well. Besides conventional weapons, the Witchfinder also employed items of occult power in his crusade, most noteworthy of which was the Spear of Destiny.

Blaine began a bloody rampage in May, 2006 in New York City by murdering three high-ranking members of the devil-worhipping cult DEMON. By the time the magic-wielding superhero Dr. Arcane engaged him in Boston in July of that year, Blaine had murdered another eight people belonging to various occult organizations. It is rumored that Dr. Arcane became involved because Blaine had targeted his family for termination.

During the confrontation, both men vanished in what eyewitnesses claimed was a brilliant burst of light. Although the semi-retired superhero reappeared nearly a year later, Blaine has never resurfaced. In an enigmatic statement made to authorities in April the following year, Arcane stated that Blaine was neither dead nor in custody.

Blaine’s whereabouts remain unknown.

Although Blaine has no metahuman abilities, Blaine has utilized a wide assortment of military-grade hardware as well as a variety of occult objects he has collected against targets to great effect against powerful supernatural adversaries. He is an expert marksman with a wide variety of projectile weapons, an expert hand-to-hand combatant, an expert military strategist as well as an expert in demonology, occult lore and comparative religion.

Adapted from a text originally published in Arcane Adversaries: An Enemies Book for Champions by Dean Shomshak. ™ and © Hero Games, Inc., 2002.

The Spear and the Moon

supermoon-over-mc
The super moon rises ominously in the October sky

Angela Buckham looked down upon downtown Millennium City in disdain from her corner office on the 10th floor of the Claremont Building. Her eyes would occasionally linger on one of the many groups of people milling about outside the numerous bars and clubs lining Cockrum Avenue. If she let her psychic guard down for even a moment, she would be able to hear the incessant scratching of their insignificant thoughts in her mind like hungry rats scurrying inside the walls of a squalid tenement apartment.

She turned from the window in disgust and walked to her imposing, pedestal desk and sat down, setting the cup of steaming Earl Grey tea down on the matching saucer on its polished, mahogany surface. She looked anxiously at the diamond-studded Piaget on her wrist.

A quarter to eleven, she thought, and still no word.

Buckham simply despised impatience in others but absolutely loathed it in herself. The sixty-two year old felt that impatience was a sign of weakness – the impotent rage of being at the mercy of forces beyond one’s control – and she had sworn to herself as she dabbed away the splatters of her mother’s blood from her face with a washcloth in the ornate mirror that now hung on the wall behind her that she would never be weak.

Weakness was for the simpering masses of the human flotsam and jetsam that littered every town and city from her native Sheffield in the United Kingdom to Millennium City in the United States. Weakness was the defining characteristic of Homo sapiens – those pitiful creatures trapped in the petty world their paltry five senses defined for them. Weakness, however, had no place in the mindset of Homo superioris – the next step in human evolution.

The subtle vibration of her iPhone pulled her out of her reverie. As the thrumming device floated to her right hand on waves of telekinetic force with the deftness that comes with nearly half a century of practice, she raised the teacup to her lips with her left and took a dainty sip. Putting the teacup back on its saucer, she pressed the speakerphone icon on her phone’s touch screen and waited.

“Mistress?” asked Paul Anderson, the Head of Project Sleepwalker, his Texas drawl containing a hint of trepidation.

The silence that followed yawned before Anderson like the maw of a ravenous beast.

“Report,” Buckham responded pointedly, the highly-polished veneer of civility she was famous for in society circles disappearing like a wisp of smoke in a blast of frigid air.

“Everything was proceeding as we had anticipated. The subjects were under our complete control while interacting with the Spear. Then… something happened.” He paused briefly to collect his thoughts. “We couldn’t control the forces they’d invoked. There was a backlash of some kind of energy. I’d never seen anything like it before. The backlash killed all three subjects and wreaked havoc on our equipment.”

“What went wrong, Mr. Anderson?” Buckham could feel impatience growing within her like a cancer.

“It would appear,” Anderson began, real fear now in his voice, “that our premise was incorrect.”

“Go on,” Buckham said flatly, quelling the urge to rupture a blood vessel in Anderson’s brain.

Anderson could feel the heat of her fury flow towards him like lava.

“The forces the three conjured,” he said, weighing his words carefully, “were definitely not psionic in nature. We’ve determined that some of the abilities we’ve been studying resemble our precious gifts but it’s clear now that how their abilities actually work – even what energies are accessed and how they are manipulated – is a complete mystery.”

“Sanitize the area and dispose of the bodies,” Buckham began evenly despite the anger welling up within her, “before Millennium City’s metahumans stumble onto your team.”

“Clean-up is underway, Mistress.”

It didn’t require Tetrahertz-level ability to understand that Anderson had more to say but was unsure how to proceed.

“Was there anything else, Mr. Anderson?”

“Mistress, you have to understand that the… whatever it was… it caused absolute chaos,” he began apologetically, “The witches were shrieking something fierce, equipment was shorting out everywhere. Some of us even… saw things.”

Buckham sensed that the memory of whatever Anderson had seen sent chills up the Texan’s spine.

Regaining his composure, Anderson continued, “Whatever the backlash was, I believe it somehow drew people here from somewhere else.”

“What?” asked Buckham incredulously.

“A few of us sensed several sets of thoughts suddenly appearing in and around the museum. Although the images we picked up were jumbled and disjointed, the Spear figured prominently in all their minds.”

“Where are they now, Mr. Anderson?” Buckham asked, leaning forward in her chair.

“We lost track of them almost immediately. It was as if their brains worked on a different frequency – one we couldn’t quite tune in on.”

Anderson could feel Buckham’s mind slip past his psionic defenses with terrifying ease. One look at the faces of his colleagues was enough for him to realize that she was simultaneously probing their thoughts also.

My God, how powerful is she?

“I’ve despatched teams to acquire these potentially useful assets,” Buckham began, her telepathic tendrils withdrawing from his mind, “you have your instructions, Mr. Anderson.”

Buckham ended the call before Anderson could reply and put the cell phone down on her desk. She then leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes and cast her thoughts across the city in search of the individuals Anderson’s incompetence had brought into it. Despite the alienness of their minds, finding them was a foregone conclusion.

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The Minefield was one of the hottest clubs in the south-eastern United States. At one time or another, the biggest names in Hollywood and the music industry as well as members of the jet set and more than a few European aristocrats had numbered among its patrons.

Yet, despite the notoriety and occasional infamy of its clientele, there had never been a violent incident at the Minefield. This, however, was not due to club security. Other than the fearsome bouncer on face control outside the club, there were no security personnel. Simply put, the reason was that the Minefield was considered to be the Switzerland of Vibora Bay.

It was situated in midtown, which in and of itself was not significant. However, that portion of midtown happened to be between the territories of two rival gangs – the New Shadows, a clan of vampires led by Vladic Dracul, and the Dogz, a pack of lycanthropes headed by Black Fang. Despite intense fighting and heavy losses on both sides, neither gang could hold the disputed territory for long so a small stretch of midtown became a no man’s land. Since none of the other gangs in the city cared to disrupt the delicate balance, the Minefield soon became a place where anyone regardless of faction could relax and unwind in perfect safety – even superheroes like Jennifer Jones, also known as the Shroud.

She sat at the bar, the double shot of Ballantine’s she had ordered half an hour before sat untouched in front of her. She was so lost in thought that she was oblivious to the clubbers on the dance floor behind her gyrating to the pounding breakbeat blaring from the speakers. The tall, dark man in his early thirties that slipped fluidly onto the stool next to hers would also have gone unnoticed if she had not sensed a familiar presence. Turning to him, she flashed a wan smile.

“Hello, Ink. What brings you to Vibora?”

Although the Roin’esh warrior knew that the Shroud was one of a handful of individuals on the planet that could see through any guise his people assumed, it still took him aback.

“I grew bored overseeing the repairs to our headquarters so I decided to stand out.”

Jones chuckled, “You mean ‘step out’, Inky. ‘Stand out’ means that you make yourself easy to see.” She scrutinized Ink from top to bottom for a moment. “I must say that your disguise is flawless, right down to the Armani suit and Gucci shoes.”

Smiling, Ink said, “Thank you! I have been perfecting a variety of human guises in case I need to go undercover.” He stopped and looked at her quizzically, hoping he had used the correct phrase.

Jones nodded, noting that even the characteristic lilt of his voice had been replaced by a deep baritone marked by a Brooklyn accent. She filed that bit of information away for the moment.

“You aren’t keeping tabs on me, are you Ink? Did Arcana put you up to following me to make sure I’m OK?”

“Not at all,” lied Ink unconvincingly.

Picking up her nearly forgotten drink, Jones downed the whiskey and put the now empty glass back on its cardboard coaster. “Arc’s really great,” she began after a moment’s reflection, “but she can be a little over-protective at times.”

Ink placed a hand on her shoulder, “We all care for you, Jennifer.”

clubbers-at-the-minefield
A slow night at The Minefield

Jones turned from him and surveyed the sea of young bodies undulating to the music, “Believe it or not, it’s a quiet night. This place is usually wall-to-wall people every night of the week.”

Ink regarded her for a moment before breaking the silence that had suddenly come between them. “Penny for your thoughts.”

“I’m not sure they’re worth even that much,” Jones said turning back to him.

He leaned towards her, “I know well the look of someone who longs to see someone they will never see again.”

Her hand lightly caressed the gold ankh hanging around her neck, “Do you know why I’m in Vibora Bay?”

“Not really.”

“I’m here to pay my respects. To Ben. He’s buried in a cemetery not too far from here called Cypress Grove. I haven’t had a chance to since…,” she paused, shuddering at the memories of pain and fear that raised their heads like venomous cobras from the dark recesses of her mind, “you freed me from Na’amah’s domination.”

The Roin’esh warrior recalled the creature Na’amah well.

“It’s a stupid custom if you think about it – visiting the gravesite of people we…,” she paused to select the word with the least implication, “knew. It’s not like anything you do will bring them back. Nothing you do ever brings them back.”

Ink nodded slowly, “No one should ever have to go through the loss of a loved one.”

Feeling uncomfortable, she turned to the bartender and ordered another double Ballantine’s straight up for herself and a Black Russian for Ink, which had turned out to be his favorite beverage to her great amusement.

Taking a long draught from her drink, she began, “I’ve been putting off coming here for the longest time.” Her brow furrowed in thought, “It was easy to throw myself into work. That bitch and her filthy kin hit the Squadron hard. The HQ was a shambles and we lost so many good people. I guess I threw myself into my duties so I could avoid dealing with my feelings.”

“Why is that?”

Her hand glided gently over the ankh hanging from her neck, “I guess I didn’t want to say goodbye to Ben and coming here would be doing just that.”

Ink nodded knowingly.

Leaning towards Ink, she confided, “You know what?” she chuckled, taking a sip of her drink, “I went to Cypress Grove last night. Just after sunset. I slipped into the cemetery like a thief and spent the entire night up in a tree looking at Ben’s tombstone from a hundred meters away – the big, bad Shroud too afraid to approach a hunk of granite.”

“Did you love him, Jennifer?”

“No,” she exclaimed, her hand reaching unconsciously for the ankh, “We weren’t together for very long and I… I was so driven to build the Squadron into a fighting force to equal the Champions I couldn’t really commit much time to a relationship.

Ink peered deeply into her eyes.

“Yes, Ink,” she began haltingly, “I did love him. I loved him and I never got the chance to tell him that I did. Now, I never will.”

Ink wiped away the single tear that had begun to well up in her right eye. “My people have a saying: ‘speak from the heart and even the gods will listen’.”

Jones thought about this for a moment. Then, her face brightened. “Thank you for being here for me and for being such a good listener. I suppose I’d better get back to my hotel room and get a good night’s sleep – I’ve got to say my good-byes early tomorrow morning before heading back to HQ.” She kissed Ink on his check and got up to leave. “Remember, no gin. It affects you like an anesthetic affects us.”

Ink nodded, smiling.

With that, she walked purposefully into the throng of people on the dance floor and disappeared from view.

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A tear in space-time floated silently just over a meter above the roof of the Millennium City Museum of Natural History, its circumference demarcated by coruscating ribbons of amber energy. At its center, there was simply nothing – neither shape nor color could be seen. It was as if, at the heart of this anomaly, there lurked the absence of all things.

Suddenly, a red, white and blue garbed figured was hurled out of the void, landing with a teeth-jarring thud on the asphalt. As the rift slowly faded from existence, the woman in the star-spangled costume began to stir. She lifted her head and looked around at her surroundings groggily.

Where am I?

marrion-at-the-museum
Marrion of the Mire stepping out from behind a tree

Shaking the cobwebs from her head as best she could, she got to her feet and dropped to the ground fifty meters below with the grace of a jungle cat. She was making her way towards the intersection as silently as a shadow when a yellow-skinned creature reminiscent of a satyr with glowing green eyes and a single horn protruding from its forehead emerged from behind a tree.

“A strange creature, indeed,” it giggled, “I speak of you, not me.”

Startled, the woman jumped back, her hands balled into fists. She eyed the odd creature warily, who stood staring at her, a toothy grin on its face.

“Who,” she began, “or, better yet, what are you?”

He regarded her in enigmatic silence, which agitated the patriotically-dressed woman even more than his sudden appearance. Every muscle in her body tightened like a steel spring.

“I don’t know what kind of Ratzi trick this is so you’d better talk or prepare to get pummeled!”

He erupted in paroxysms of laugher. “Please, fair maiden, there is no need to fight. I am not a being of evil or fright. I have been a servant of The Mother for many a year, preserving Nature and Life has been my sole career.”

He then raised a single clawed hand, palm upwards, as if offering her a gift. Before her eyes, a tiny ball of emerald fire appeared in his hand. To her amazement, she could discern small humanoid creatures that looked surprisingly like the garden gnome statues people set out on their lawns dancing merrily around the miniature bonfire. Sensing that he meant her no harm, she let her guard down.

“Sorry, I guess I blew my wig,” the woman began, running a red-gloved hand through her long, blonde hair, “I suppose if this had been a trap, you would’ve attacked me on the rooftop while I was still dazed.”

The bonfire and the celebrants dancing about it disappeared in a puff of smoke. As the creature slowly lowered his hand to his side, he grinned at her so disarmingly and so infectiously that she could not help but smile in return.

“I am known as Marrion of the Mire,” the creature said, bowing deeply to her. “Who might you be, maiden in odd attire?

Extending a hand of friendship to Marrion, the star-spangled heroine began, “I go by the code-name Lady Liberty. My sidekick and I…,” she stopped in mid-sentence as if struck by a freight train. Her blue eyes widening in awful realization, she stammered “Where’s Eddie?”

Almost beside herself with concern, she frantically scanned the area for any sign of her nephew and partner, twelve year-old Edward Chambers, better known as the Indy Kid.

“Mayhap, dear lady, I may be of some small assistance,” Marrion offered cordially, “we may both find what we seek with luck and persistence.”

Taking a deep breath, Lady Liberty regained her composure.

Truly seeing her surroundings for the first time since finding herself on the rooftop moments before, she stated with scientific detachment, “This certainly isn’t Berlin and you are certainly no Nazi.” Putting her hands gently on Marrion’s shoulders, she looked deeply into his eyes and asked simply, “Where are we?”

“Your confusion is a pity,” Marrion said, “this place, fair one, is Millennium City.”

“Millennium City? Never heard of it and I do believe,” she said, marveling at the glass and steel skyscrapers rising into the night sky in the distance, “I would have. It’s simply breathtaking.”

“Aye, this city’s new life was begun upon the ashes of Detroit, Michigan.”

“That’s impossible,” Lady Liberty scoffed, “I was in Berlin just moments before I met you. Well, I should’ve said I was in what was left of Berlin after our boys had bombed it back into the Stone Age. See, the Third Reich was on its last legs but Uncle Adolf was holed up in the Führerbunker calling the shots. The war could’ve gone on for at least another six months so the War Department sent me and a few other so-called ‘mystery men’ – I hate that expression – to pull Hitler kicking and screaming from the hole that rat was hiding in when…,” her voice trailed off as the fractured image of man with piercing blue eyes rose to the surface of her consciousness.

Could I really be stateside?

In answer to her silent question, Marrion said, “You have indeed returned, yet much history and science must you relearn.”

Lady Liberty was about to explain to the annoying creature exactly what she thought of his maddening rhymes when she spied two familiar figures standing stock-still at the entrance to the massive building she had found herself on top of mere moments before.

Bridging the distance between herself and the similarly-clad man and woman in a single bound, Lady Liberty found herself directly behind the unmoving pair. She was about to speak to them when her gaze fell on a large, bronze plaque fastened to the wall that seemed to hold the two spellbound. On its gleaming surface, it read:

The Millennium City Museum of Natural History

This museum is dedicated to the men, women and children

who lost their lives in the Battle of Detroit.

They will never be forgotten.

July 1, 1995

“But it’s only 1945,” she said under her breath, breaking the eerie silence that enveloped the dumfounded pair, who whirled around to face her.

“Doll face!” the tall, muscular man whooped in genuine happiness, snatching her up in his massive arms, “it’s so good ta see ya!”

“Good to see you, too!” she exclaimed joyfully, all thoughts of the puzzle that had been set before her melting temporarily away, “Now, put me down, you big palooka, before you break my ribs.”

She had worked with Major Victor back in ’44 to break up a ring of Fifth Columnists who had been planning to assassinate President Roosevelt. He was a good man to have in a fight – tough, strong and brave to the point of recklessness. The lithe woman beside him went by the code-name Maiden America. They had never crossed paths until the War Department assembled the team tasked with extracting Hitler from the Führerbunker.

“Liberty,” Maiden America began, “you’re the egghead. Could we have been sent fifty years into the future?”

“I don’t know but, if that plaque’s the genuine article, then it looks like we have.”

“Have ya seen any of da others?” inquired Major Victory, “Da Black Terror and Kid Terror was right beside me when we burst inta da bunker. Next thing I know, I was here and dey was nowhere ta be seen.”

Maiden America nodded in agreement, “Pyroman and I were as close as the Major and I am right now before, whatever hit us, sent me here. Right there, in fact,” she said, pointing to the bus shelter on the corner of the street across from them.

Lady Liberty’s thoughts went to her nephew, who she now hoped was merely lost somewhere in this strange, future world. The alternatives were too awful to contemplate.

“Dat kraut wit da distoibin’ eyes,” Major Victor began slowly, “you know, da crumb wavin’ da javelin at us…”

“It was a spear, not a javelin” interrupted Maiden America, “the Spear of Destiny, to be precise. According to scripture, it was the spear that pierced the side of Christ as he hung on the cross. It’s said to have mystical properties.”

“Y’ain’t whistlin’ Dixie, sister,” Major Victor said, “if dat thingamabob sent us to da future, it’s packin’ ‘mystical properties’ in spades.”

“Liberty, behind you!” cried Maiden America in alarm as she caught sight of Marrion scampering up the steps to the museum entrance towards them.

“Relax, Marrion’s a good Joe.”

“What a beautiful stew of red, white and blue – a merry reunion between allies true. Yet, I must bring you tidings of terrible woe for there is something you all must know!”

“Enough, Marrion!” snapped Lady Liberty exasperatedly, “What are you babbling about?”

“It is good you have found more of your kind,” Marrion said frantically, “but beware for there are monsters not far behind!”

“Ya look in the mirror lately, short-stuff?” asked Major Victor jovially.

“Pipe down!” barked Lady Liberty.

The four stood motionless in the pool of pale light cast by the sodium-vapor lights above their heads. They could each sense a malevolence in the night drawing towards them long before they heard the shuffle of numerous feet. The irregularity of the approaching footsteps raised the hackles on the backs of their necks.

“At least thirty,” Lady Liberty said, pointing to the darkened, tree-lined park across the street, “coming right at us.”

“The dead have risen to devour the living, I fear,” Marrion said as the sounds of gnashing teeth wafted to their ears, “they come to consume us and all we hold dear.”

A horde of zombies surged through a copse of trees towards them.

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Arcana Arcanatis woke up with a start. She had had nothing but fitful sleep since leaving the Squadron Supreme in the wake of the Battle of Independence Day. Memories of fallen friends and comrades haunted her dreams like vengeful wraiths.

She turned her head to look at the alarm clock on the dark cherry night table beside her.

Only 1:23 AM!

She lay in her queen size, four-poster bed debating whether to begin her day despite the fact that the sun would not rise for several hours or whether to attempt to get back to sleep. Settling on the latter, she closed her eyes and imagined strolling through the ancient pine forest outside her father’s village in the mountains of the Peloponnese in his native Greece.

Although this pastoral scene had never failed to soothe her mind, it now only served to agitate her. After twenty frustrating minutes of tossing and turning, she sat up, the sheet sliding away from her porcelain skin in a delicate cascade of shimmering silk. She stretched her arms and got out of bed. As she crossed the threshold of her bedroom, she materialized a full-length, black satin nightgown to cover her nakedness.

When not protecting the world from supernatural threats as the Irish-born super-heroine Stonehenge alongside her father, her mother was a run-of-the-mill soccer mom from the small town of Jerusalem’s Lot. However, she raised her children to embrace values that would shock most New England suburbanites – values which included naturism.

“Mother Earth,” she would tell her and her younger brother Anthony much to the chagrin of her father, “doesn’t conceal her glory in apparel.”

Her father was both literate and broad-minded yet he would become more than just a trifle uncomfortable when her mother would walk about the house completely naked.

“Grainne,” he would say, knowing from years of marriage exactly how the conversation would play out, “at least, put something on when the children are around.”

“John,” a wry smile on her face, she would retort in her melodic Derry accent, “why do ya want me ta hide what Da Moder in her wisdom crafted?”

The conversation would never escalate into an argument as it would with most couples – her parents simply agreed to disagree and left it at that. In time, however, clothing became all but mandatory in common areas of the Arcanatis household when her father was at home while bedrooms and certain other rooms in the house remained clothing optional. When her father was away as was often the case, she and her mother would shed their clothing. Despite inheriting quite a few of her father’s more conservative attitudes, her brother would occasionally go au naturel as well. To this day, Arcana seldom left her bedroom without putting something on out of deference to her late father even though he had died a few years before and she had been living alone for years.

briki
Arcana’s antique briki, which had been in her father’s family since the 1800s

She padded lightly across the hardwood floor into the rustic-style kitchen, running her fingers through her luxurious, auburn hair. Taking a small, antique coffee pot called a briki out of the cupboard above the stainless-steel sink, she filled it halfway to the rim with water. Next, she added a heaping teaspoon of Greek coffee into the water from an air-tight, ceramic canister next to the sink. She then added a level teaspoon of sugar from another, slightly larger canister. After stirring the mixture, she placed it on the gas burner. As the kitchen filled with the aroma wafting from the briki, she took out a delicate white saucer and matching demitasse cup from another cupboard and placed them on the hardwood countertop.

The heady fragrance of stewing coffee brought with it a wave of nostalgia. Having family breakfast around the kitchen table on Sunday morning. Taking her father a cup of coffee in his study. Gathering around the coffee table in the living room for game night. Those were simpler, happier times when the most important decision she had to make was what to wear to school and the worst thing that could possible happen was that one of her classmates wore the same outfit.

The coffee began to bubble, thick foam threatening to spill over the rim. She lifted the pot from the burner by its wooden handle so that the foam could settle. She then placed it back onto the burner for a moment, foam forming a ring on the surface of the coffee. Smiling in anticipation, Arcana turned off the burner and filled the demitasse cup almost to the brim with the brew.

She took the coffee and made her way to the living room, which was bathed in pale, silvery light from the full moon rising high above the skyscrapers of Millennium City. Curling up on the black, leather sofa, she took a quick sip of the hot coffee before setting it down on the black lacquer end table beside her. She covered her bare legs with the quilted throw blanket her paternal grandmother had made her when Arcana was still a teen.

Tonight, the Moon was much more prominent in the night sky as its orbit brought it much closer to the Earth than usual. There would also be a total lunar eclipse at 3:33 a.m., during which the Moon would assume a coppery hue as it passed through the Earth’s umbra shadow. Although many theologians and some occultists warned that the rare celestial confluence was a portent of catastrophe, there was no evil inherent in what they referred to ominously as a “blood moon”. She thought to herself that, since there were always those lost souls that would use any excuse to cause harm to others, perhaps some good could come out of her insomnia.

She closed her eyes and opened herself to the aethyric currents that connected all realities with all of their myriad inhabitants – attuning herself to the very ebb and flow of the Multiverse itself – immediately sensing a wrongness. Focusing her Sight-beyond-Sight, she could see a number of incongruities concentrated around the Millennium City Museum of Natural History. Before she could divine the nature of the strange emanations she had felt, Arcana sensed a presence outside the door of her penthouse apartment.

Leaving the matter of how the spiritual wards she had placed around her apartment had been circumvented for her uninvited guest to explain, she threw off the blanket she had been nestling under and leapt to her feet, her nightgown transmuting into her new costume – a sleeveless, black leather leotard; folded, red ankle boots; and a flowing, gold-trimmed, red cloak with a high collar. A Spell of Containment already forming on her lips, she bathed the doorway in the all-revealing light of the Diadem of Thoth. What was revealed left her utterly speechless.

She walked slowly to the door. After a moment’s pause, she grasped the cool, brass handle and opened it.

In front of her stood a handsome, middle-aged man with a greying Van Dyke, who looked as if he had stepped out of a poster advertising a bygone magic show – he wore a black, four-button tuxedo and tails with satin lapels; a burgundy cummerbund and matching bow tie; a white shirt with a wing collar; a pair of impeccably clean, black, patent-leather shoes and, sitting atop his head, a black silk top hat about 12 centimeters in height.

His hazel eyes sparkling in delight, he said, “Hello, princess. How beautiful you’ve grown!”

“Daddy?”

Brujeria, The

Learn about a secret society of evil sorcerers who have been in existence for over one hundred years

Qliphothic Tree
The Qliphotic Tree of Shadows, polar opposite of the Qabbalistic Tree of Life

What little is known of the cult known as the Brujeria (Spanish: “Witchcraft”) has been pieced together from conflicts between the group and the super-hero community over a period of many years. The cult was founded by silent-film actress Alicia Thompson in 1915. While working on Broadway, the seventeen year old Thompson made the acquaintance of many of New York’s rich and powerful. One of these individuals was Charles Francis Knox, the head of the local lodge of the Circle of the Scarlet Moon. Knox took Thompson as his mistress and acolyte, initiating her into mysteries of the Circle usually reserved for high-ranking members. Unfortunately for him, Thompson proved to be both more talented in the ways of the mystic arts than he but also far more ambitious than he could ever have imagined.

Draining Knox of his occult powers, Thompson killed the weakened Knox with a lethal spell and then usurped his place as Archdruid of the New York Lodge. With the Circle left in disarray after their battle with the Archmage of the time, her coup went unopposed. However, the High Coven never recognized Thompson’s authority as Archdruid nor her group as a lodge within the Circle’s organizational structure. Now called the Order of the Eye, Thompson’s organization grew rapidly during the First World War with new lodges forming in Boston, Chicago, Hudson City, San Fransisco and Vibora Bay. Despite the influx of initiates into the Order, Thompson kept it out of the public eye although the kidnappings of seven children in the New York area in 1919 are said to have been perpetrated by members of the New York lodge.

During the Roaring Twenties, Thompson, now a successful Hollywood actress, relocated the Grand Lodge of the Order to Los Angeles. Despite setbacks, such as the utter destruction of the Hudson City lodge at the hands of the enigmatic costumed crimefighter the Raven, the Order had grown to rival the Circle of the Scarlet Moon: by 1929, it could boast twelve lodges across the continental United States and over 1,000 members from all walks of life.

Naamah
Artist’s rendition of the arch-fiend Na’amah (Hebrew: נַעֲמָה‎‎; “pleasant”), a succubus second only to Lilith in power

With a secure power base, Thompson decided to set her sights on global domination. Acquiring the Basilisk Orb, an ancient artifact of vast eldritch power, Thompson and her husband, Ricardo Vargas, would have succeeded in opening a portal into our world for the Qliphotic entity Na’amah had it not been for the intervention of the costumed vigilante Black Mask VII, alias Chicago police officer Jason Ward. The Chicago lodge caught fire in the ensuing conflict, forcing Thompson and Vargas to flee without the Orb, which Ward had retrieved before the lodge burned to the ground. Before dying from his injuries, Ward entrusted the Orb to the mysterious Doctor Arcane.

Psychically traumatized by the occult backlash of the failed ritual, Thompson began to become increasingly unbalanced. The reclusive Vargas returned to Venezuela with his wife. Now the sole head of the organization he renamed the Brujeria, Vargas tried in vain to restore Thompson to her former self. It was thought that her death in 1933 had also signaled the death of the Brujeria. However, evidence acquired by metahuman and supernatural heroes around the world over the last twenty years suggest that the Brujeria are in fact more powerful than ever before.

Arcana

AKA Arcana Arcanatis, UNTIL Superhuman Registry No.: 790468

Arcana screenie
Subject in her current costume leading a contingent of her Squadron Dark into combat against a cadre of Elder Worms

Base of Operations: Jerusalem’s Lot, MA. USA; Millennium City, MI. USA

Group Affiliation: Squadron Supreme (former deputy leader and interim leader); current leader of the Squadron Dark

Alignment: Good

Motivation: Upholding the good

Abilities: A range of uncategorized magical abilities including energy projection, dimensional travel, probability manipulation and limited weather control

Skills: Occultist specializing in ritual enchantment, and ceremonial conjuration; polyglot with a mastery of Modern and Ancient Greek, Scottish and Irish Gaelic, Biblical Hebrew, Ancient Egyptian, Latin, several dialects of Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Italian, and French

Paraphernalia: The Diadem of Thoth, The Dragon’s Eye Staff and a set of bracers, armbands and necklace collectively known as The Armaments of the Light-Bringer

Vulnerabilities: N/A

Threat Level: Beta

Arcana screenie
Subject responding to distress call from Project: Greenskin in her original outfit during her time as the Deputy Leader of the Squadron Supreme

The daughter of the golden-age sorcerer Doctor Arcane (UNTIL Superhuman Registry No.: 023146) and Irish-born super-heroine Stonehenge, Arcana Arcanatis wanted nothing to do with her parents’ never-ending battle with eldritch terrors as two of the Earth Realm’s Agents of Light. Even though she had the makings of a mighty magick wielder in her own right, her goal in life was to make it on the big screen until the mystical mystery-man disappeared without a trace and her mother died at unknown hands.

Donning artifacts she had discovered in her father’s Sanctuarium Fortitudinis to augment her already impressive abilities, she called on the Champions to help her locate her father. During a series of adventures the Champions refer to as “The Great Darkness”, Arcana and her comrades discovered that her father’s abductor and her mother’s murderer were one in the same: Hades, Doctor Arcane’s nemesis and ageless Agent of Darkness.

Having fortified his extra-dimensional sanctuary with the mystic might of his old foe, Hades set his intricate scheme to subjugate the inhabitants of the Earth plane in motion. This, however, would prove to be the fatal flaw in his plan as it weakened the wards concealing him from the senses of those attuned to arcane forces. Breaching the walls of Hades’ fortress, Arcana and her compatriots engaged the sinister sorcerer and his army of demons. In a pitched battle of eldritch energy, Arcana defeated Hades and banished him to the shadowy realm referred to in hushed whispers by the occult community as “The Otherside”.

Weakened from his time in captivity, Doctor Arcane died but not before charging Arcana with his duty of protecting the Earth realm from the timeless evil that lurks beyond the perceptions of humanity.

Addendum: After the conflict known as Independence Day, Arcana left the Squadron Supreme and, under unknown circumstances, assumed leadership of the group that was formerly called the Squadron Sinister.