More fiction. Much like the realm of Multifaria itself, one of the oddest things I've ever written. A lot of references that only a Vancouverite would fully understand, but I hope it's accessible enough that it won't confuse people too badly.
"One of the countless parallel Earths, known to less than half a dozen mystics in Earth’s history, has no special name, though one of those mystics referred to it in his writings as the Multifarian Earth, or simply “the Multifarian.” It’s one of the strangest of the alternate Earths, a place where past, present, and future history mingle together in ways that someone from Champions Earth might find baffling, and where historical dead-ends on Champions Earth sometimes continued on to bear strange fruit. A section of Victorian buildings stands right next to glittering twenty-first century skyscrapers in New York, while dirigibles and da Vinci flying machines traverse the sky overhead and a space station rides the heavens as a twin to the Moon. Walking down a street in London one might chance to pass Benjamin Disraeli, then Shakespeare, then Tony Blair, then the 38th century warlord Forsythe Rutledge... none of whom might be present in the city tomorrow". -- Champions Universe, 6th edition, p. 153
The chained Duke sat on his throne, overlooking his city, holding his spyglass. To the south and to the east, he could see the karakadon host, bearing the Citizen's dweomer as markings on their fins, foul runes inscribed by the screams of those who had fallen under tyranny, backed by the great metal war engines of the Destroyer. Citizen Harmon had finally conquered the lands of Indignant Montana and Seattle the Emerald, breaking the protective magics of the Grand Coulee stone spirit and Lady Columbia, great river of the West as if they were cheap, transparent parlor tricks. That was not a surprise, for he had broken the wall of magic of the Continental Divide, a far greater spirit (with the exception of the Northern Lights, the Rocky Mountains were the greatest place-spirits in North America), The Duchy of Vancouver fashioned itself a puissant city, a crossroads of the world whose many magicks harmonized to make it a great cosmopolitan fortress, but in truth its power was practically nothing compared to the dark majesty of Citizen Harmon, and there seemed little hope of resisting the shadow of destruction that now creeped to swallow it whole, as a karkadon engulfs its meal.
George Vancouver, second only to Trevor Linden among the Captains of the city, once a great explorer, was now the Chained Duke who sat on his throne on the balcony of Vancouver City Hall. Sensing the doom of his city drawing near, he realized he would need to summon help, so he drew on the creative magicks of his city and began to sing a ballad. The duke had a good singing voice. His selection was not one of the beloved sea shanties, as the man was accustomed to singing in the old days, but it was a pleasant enough ballad.
"Sun's up, uh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me
"I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren't half as frightening as they were before
But I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me
"Walls windows trees, waves coming through
You be in me and I'll be in you
Together in eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me
"Up among the firs where it smells so sweet
Or down in the valley where the river used to be
I got my mind on eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me.
"And I'm wondering where the lions are...
I'm wondering where the lions are..."
The song had a purpose, it was a summoning song, a plea for one of the stone lions to leave its pedestal on the steps of the old Courthouse on Georgia St., and come and perform a bequest. And though his voice growled with the unpleasantness, having been used to bark so many unpleasant commands, having been used to help found an empire of hypocrisy, arrogance, and cruelty, it nonetheless had power. The stone lion came, bearing a white bag in its maw.
"Open the bag," the Duke of Vancouver commanded, struggling to lift one chained hand upward and adjust his powdered wig.
The Lion frowned. In the voice of Joe Kapp, the great BC Lions quarterback, it growled: "The damn thing will eventually open itself. Hike!", and it turned and strolled away, its stone mane shaking in a strong breeze, leaving an unopened bag just out of the chained duke's reach.
The Duke of Vancouver sighed and waited for the bag to open, sweating in his hot 18th century frockcoat. It was summer, an uncomfortable muggy day, and George Vancouver always found them difficult. But there was the promise of a respite, as the sun was beginning to set in the west, turning Burrard Inlet into a sea of shining glass, dark, rippled, and beautiful. He wondered if he would have to wait the night.
Then the nine o'clock gun sounded, and out of the bag sprung a great six eyed raven, not black but white as a snowcap. The raven had an arrow lodged through its left wing, and it bounced a crippled dance as it talked, its eyes shining. He was the Ravenspeaker, the mortal representative of the Haida in the faded world where men had replaced the local magicks in favor of the machine ideals that their ancestors had brought from Europe. But that ancient quarrel mattered little to Ravensparker -- as long as he could dance and talk, he was content. Treating his guest with reverence, Captain Vancouver bent down to one knee, a true sacrifice, as the chains would make it difficult for him to rise again.
"Can I see the Hope at last, great Ravenspeaker?" the Duke asked.
Ravenspeaker paused for several minutes without speaking, savoring the man's impatience. He preened for a few minutes, admiring the dark sheen of his feathers in the ebbing sun. When the Captain finally began to speak again, Ravenspeaker finally turned to address him "You must look beyond Hope," he replied.
"Beyond Hope? How?" the Captain wondered. Slightly exasperated, the raven hopped onto George Vancouver's spyglass and pecked on it slightly. "Oh. That beyond Hope!"
The Duke did as he was instructed. Rising to his feet, he turned the spyglass north and west of the host, he looked to the town of Spuzzum, which was indeed beyond the town of Hope, a squalid rural crossroads that sat in the east of Fraser's Vale, whose sole redemption was the majesty of nearby Mount Cheam. A storm had hit the eastern vales, dark clouds nestled on the high valley hills and laughed, pelting both the fir trees of that town and the loggers who were harvesting them. These were hard men, dressed in flannel and threadworn denim and heavy gloves, whose bodies bulged in different places under the harshness of their labor and the consumption of beer. Not fey refugees from a Monty Python song, these harsh men shook their fists at the weather and railed against it and every second word from their mouths was an obscenity (for that is how loggers have always talked).
Captain Vancouver blinked and pondered that sight. "Just men complaining about the weather," he noted. "What could be more normal than that? That is our hope?"
"Ha!" the Raven croaked proudly. "Made you look!" he shouted triumphantly. Captain Vancouver began to shout curses as only a sailor can, but Ravenspeaker stopped him with a mighty caw. "I have summoned the Hope," Ravenspeaker said. "Though by the beginning of tomorrow, you may wish you had never laid eyes on him."
The bird was always saying ominous things like that. It was an easy way to get attention.
"I'll be the judge," Captain Vancouver spake, and he looked skyward. Suddenly the world darkened, the cumulonimbus broiling black in the skies above, and the sky began to weep its typical northwest tantrum. Ten thousand umbrellas opened simultaneously on the streets below, and the scent in the air changed. "Is that him?" the Captain asked, warm rain streaming down his face and frockcoat.
"It is," the six-eyed white raven answered, cawing jubilantly. "Let me properly introduce him!" Ravenspeaker added, preening with pride, As George Vancouver raised his spyglass, the raven began to sing a song of welcome. Unfortunately, this was perhaps the most awful sound imaginable, if any human being were capable of imagining something so dreadful. By comparison, the music of Joey "S" and DOA were fit sounds for a royal coronation or (to use a metaphor understandable to those woefully unfamiliar with the subtle nuances of Vancouver's punk bands), by comparison, Rosanne Barr's singing voice sounded is like a nightingale compared to the atrocity of a raven's music. As the bird sang its atrocious chorus, the windows on surrounding buildings and cars rattled and shattered, ten thousand cats reared and shrieked and could not move, twelve thousand dogs howled so hard they lost their voices, the people on the streets below fell to the ground and clutched their ears in agony, and in nearby cemeteries, corpses in their graves, offended by the hideous noise, briefly animated so they could shake their fists and scream at the Raven to be silent, cursing the interruption of their rest.
The Duke of Vancouver, however, refused to be deterred. He raised his spyglass to spy the Hero of the oncoming storm, but it was already too late. The hero (or more accurately, the hero's harbinger) had arrived.
"Hi," said Craig Carson, running his fingers through his dark hair, his stance nervous. He looked no more than a boy of eight, and though his appearance was somewhat deceptive, still the sight of the shackled captain was a daunting one. "Uh, that looks uncomfortable. Can I unchain you or something?"
George Vancouver shook his head. "Punishment from my superiors. I'm sure you understand."
"Not really," Craig Carson said.
"I must say, I wasn't quite expecting a child." the Duke of Vancouver said, raising his head with as much regality as a fettered man could muster. "You are the mighty hero, the Thundrax."
Craig Carson bowed his head. "Uh, actually I just call him. And I give him encouragement and a little direction. But I really shouldn't call him now. It hurts a lot."
"Surely a doughty young lad such as yourself can endure a little pain?" Vancouver chided.
"That is not the point," the Raven said, flapping its good wing as it danced, in irritation. "Tell him what it costs you, child. He must know what he asks of you."
Craig Carson sighed. "When I first found the Thundrax, I was an old man. 82. Almost born on the turn of the century. Each time I summon the Thundrax, I get younger. This was great when I was in my 20s... but I've had to summon him a lot lately, and lately I've had little control over him as well."
"Our need is desperate," the Captain said. "The Sharks That Walk are hungering for our blood. The Engines Without Pity are almost at good Fraser's Vale."
"Are those as bad as Ship of Dragons?" Craig asked, referring to a previous enermy.
"Much, much worse." informed the Captain. "We've rallied the troops. But our local army is no match for the sharks, let alone the metal war towers. We need the Lord of Living Thunder."
"What about you?" Craig asked. "Why don't you lead the army? Why are you stuck in those chains anyway?"
Captain Vancouver sighed. "I'm an explorer as well as a noble and an officer of the Crown," he explained. "I wander. It's my nature. I exist in a state of immortality which, alas, lends itself to frequent episodes of boredom. Were I not to be restrained, during one of those fits of ennui, I would likely put aside my responsibility, throw off my chains, and abandon my duty. Each time I break free, the forces of the Crown recapture me and add links to the chain to weigh me down." He held up the copious numbers of chains that effectively anchored him to the terrace.
"Would you wander now, if I set you free?"
"In a heartbeat," the Captain replies in a haunted tone. "Like all sensible things in creation, I'm afraid of death. And death comes marching now, on mountainous steel legs, bearing the fire of the Destroyer-god. "
Craig sighed unhappily. "I may only have one more calling left in me. This may kill me, your grace.."
"Act according to your nature, Mr. Carson," the Captain replied. "Are you that one man in ten thousand who will stare down death when she flies at you with open arms, or do you belong to the multitude? There is no shame in the latter. But the choice is upon you. Make it soon."
"I will." Craig stated. "Though I wish I weren't so hungry."
"I'll take care of that," Ravenspeaker said. He gave a mighty caw, and out of the heavens streaked another figure, a huge man dressed in the uniform of the 1930s Canadian Rocket Brigade, redoubtable in his leather bomber jacket and jodhpurs. The sky sergeant brushed aside a curl of dark hair on his forehead and, with the gravest of reverence, said: "Nat Bailey sends his regards, Thundrax." He pulled out a white bag, which shone with the brilliant emblem of White Spot, a haven for hungry travelers in the great city since 1928. "He has dressed personally this burger with his most magical Triple-O sauce. It is guaranteed to restore the prowess of even the most exhausted hero." Sky Sergeant Billy told him.
"Thank you, Sky Sergeant." Craig answered, someone awestruck at the man's uniform and teeth, which glinted even though the sun had already set.
"Never stop fighting!" Sky Sergeant stated. Igniting his backpack, the champion of the days of two-fisted adventuring took off skyward. Craig opened the wrapper and began to eat the burger, the sound of Trooper's "Raise A Little Hell" playing while he ate, an extra magical touch courtesy of the extraordinary Mr. Bailey. It was as though all of Vancouver's heroes knew what was at stake, destruction on a scale that would make even a hockey riot pale by comparison.
"So now that you've eaten, will you help us?" Captain Vancouver asked. "I have no desire to send you to the grave..."
"More like back to the womb," Ravenspeaker quipped.
"Aren't you going to order me, your grace?" Craig asked.
The Captain shook his head. "I cannot, boy. I can only order my army and navy -- you are a private citizen. So it falls on you to make the choice on its merits, as you see them, and not as a royal command. However...." Vancouver paused. "I can persuade you. I can show you the city as I see it, so you may better understand my thoughts and hopes." And the Captain handed Craig his spyglass, and, struggling in his chains, he held out his arm to point toward the various key locations in the city, the pride of his captivity.
Craig took the glass and peered through it with his left eye, a little hesitant. The glass was difficult to focus, until he realized that he was looking through it with the eyes of a slightly drunken sailor, and then everything he saw made perfect sense. His eye was immediately drawn to the verdant masterwork that was Stanley Park. The village of X̱wáýx̱way, the place of masks of the Squamish sat in sight of Lumberman's arch, where the First Nations poet Pauline Johnson sat on a rock in Lost Lagoon, composing works solely (it seemed) for Canadian literary critics to spit on. Beyond the Arch, through a labyrinth of twisted forests and manicured hills lay the kingdom of the orcas, a little kingdom to be sure, but one where only fools ventured.. Time in Multifarian Vancouver was fluid; at some point in the future, mutant telepathic sons of Shamu will take over all the great aquariums of North America, mentally enslave humans and force them to leap around naked in the water for their amusement and consume copious quantities of fish. Poor, poor, blighters. The orcas believed, however, that the hapless humans enjoyed putting on a show.
"Neat!" young Craig exclaimed, and he turned the spyglass elsewhere.
Passing over the grizly sight of Deadman's Island, where smallpox victims sat in groves of fire-flowers and begged for compassion, youn Craig swept across Georgia Strait, the great World's Fair and its leaky condos, looked over BC Place Stadium and Roger's Arena where the thousands of Vancouver Canuck cultists dressed in blue sweaters, waited like Linus in a Halloween pumpkin patch with the gravest of sincerity, hoping that one day Lord Stanley's Cup would come. His gaze passed over Yaletown, where yuppies drank expensive coffee and tried to look more important than inconsequential. He gazed upon Chinatown, with its open markets and vibrant community, then Gastown, where Gassy Jack Deighton sold booze to railway workers, and then Junkietown, at the corner of Gore and Hastings extending six blocks or so eastward, where an ancient curse struck down all who ventured there into poverty and despair. Many were the heroes who tried to wrestle the gruesome spirit of the Downtown East Side and all were overcome, for Junkietown seemed to feast uoon the righteousness and good intentions of its opponents, and so the curse had only strengthened over the course of decades.
Craig peered eastward, through the many shops, homes, and tacky minimalls that lined the streets, whose traffic system seemed purposefullt designed to turn "rush hour" into "dead stop hour", the factory districts (including the great sugar plant), and finally over to Hastings Park. In Empire Stadium, the Empire Games were now going into their 57th year, skinny Brits, Canadians, and Aussies were running sub-four minute miles for the world to marvel. The rest of Hastings Park was a terrifying place, a fortress of steel bars, reinforced with chains, keeping prisoner 44,000 eyes, accusing eyes that protested their internment. Paranoid bigotry at the approach of war had stripped them of their possessions, property, livelihood and even their dignity. Like cattle, they had been herded into the park, and forced to live in stables and open areas. Eventually the despair and the anger at this shameful injustice became a palpable darkness, and they faded except for the eyes, the accusing eyes, Japanese-Canadian eyes, whose shape was often a source of gibes by the ignorant. They peered out of the darkness, convicting the city for its prejudices . None who went within that darkness escaped again, for what living soul can endure confrontation with such injustice and anguish and possibly escape?
"Well boy?" Captain Vancouver asked. "Is this a city worth fighting for?"
"I don't know," Craig said, shaken. "I saw a lot of misery and ugliness Maybe it would be better just to let it end.."
"We're hooped," Ravenspeaker remarked.
Craig paused and thought hard, trying to recall his adult mind, when his intellect could grapple more effectively with complexity. "People never fight for what life is. They fight for what life isn't," he mused. "The worst of us fight for what we do not have, or to keep others from having or taking. And the best of us fight for what life could be, to shape it into a better tomorrow."
"Ah!" Ravenspeaker chuckled. "But the worst of us fight for that too. Sometimes our idea of a better tomorrow isn't someone else's. And we commit horrors in the process of making it so."
"We have to stand for the tomorrows we want, or we stand for nothing." Craig answered.
"Then give them Hell and let God sort them out!" Captain Vancouver stated, drawing his sword from his belt and holding it out in a salute despite the burden of his chains.
"I'd prefer to give them heaven. It confuses the enemy a lot more," Craig said, pulling out an elaborately carved cedar box with a lightning emblem as its primary sigil. Even the Captain could sense its age: a relic of antiquity, far, far older than even he. "But I'm afraid lately, he's only capable of raising hell," Craig noted, sighing.
"We should hurry," Ravenspeaker said. "Citizen Harmon's host has already reached the border crossing. Even the usual half hour to forty-five minute delays will not hold them long."
Captain Vancouver snorted at the satirical remark. He knew that not even the border crossing from hell could slow down that army. But his chief focus was on Craig. Bending on one knee, the young Carson placed the box on the ground near Ravenspeaker's feet and opened it, singing the summoning song as he raised the lid, the song that was playing on CFOX the first time he opened it.
"I was born to run,
I was born to dream,
The craziest boy you ever seen,
I gotta do it my way,
Or no way at all,
"And I was here to please,
I'm even on my knees,
Makin' love to whoever I please,
I gotta do it my way,
Or no way at all,
"And then you came around,
Tried to tie me down,
I was such a clown,
You had to have it your way,
Or no way at all,
"But I've had all I can take,
I can't take it no more,
I'm gonna pack my bags and fly,
Or no way at all,
"So why don't you turn me loose?
Turn me loose,
Turn me loose,
I gotta do it my way,
Or no way at all,
"Why don't you turn me loose?
Turn me loose,
Turn me loose,
I gotta do it my way,
I wanna fly..."
A tear trickled down Vancouver's face; he rubbed his eyes and missed the miracle. Out of the box came a storm, and suddenly the three were serenaded by an aria of thunder, lightning bolts striking around them in a circle, dancing and celebrating their freedom in a roaring chorus.
"The thunderbird was always a show off," the Raven remarked to himself with a huff.
The storm formed itself in a man-shaped figure, almost seven feet in height and massively muscled, his long golden hair flapping like a flag in a stiff wind. He was naked, though swirling storm clouds wrapped themselves around his body, moving in a continuous motion, obscuring those parts of his form that might be considered indecent (unless you really wanted to see them.) Thundrax roared and raised a huge arm into the heavens and the heavens responded with a mighty thunderbolt, which clove a nearby oak tree in two.
"Thundrax, no!" Craig shouted.
Thundrax raised his arm to throw a second lightning bolt. Though dwarfed by the man's size, Craig went to the huge figure and kicked him in the shin. "Listen to me, dumb-ass!" he snapped. Thundrax stared back at him with rage in his storm-black eyes, but a second kick brought him to heel. He roared again and then bowed on both knees before the child.
Craig could almost weep. He could remember the Thundrax he met when he opened the box for the first time, all those many years ago. Thundrax had been so intelligent and so wise. But as Craig got greedier for control, to reclaim his youth and vigor, that intellect rapidly diminished It wasn't until Craig had gotten to the physical age of 40 that he first noticed the degradation, but he didn't quite comprehend the reason until it was much too late. Now Thundrax was barely above a "Thundrax smash!" level of comprehension. Craig could channel his thoughts through the Box of Tarhunt, the ark of the thunder gods of the ancient world in the days before the Sea Peoples rewrote the map and pantheons to suit themselves. The box, in Craig's hands, was an instrument capable of controlling the wild demigod, but the intimacy, the bond had been lost in favor of stolen youth.
Craig reached up and placed his small hand on Thundrax's huge arm, hoping to comfort him. "When do we attack?" he asked, glancing back at the Captain.
"They'll wait in camp this night, performing their damned magicks," Vancouver stated.
"What sort of magic?" Craig asked.
Ravenspeaker looked out with the eye of the Raven at the Karkadon host and frowned. "They've stopped their advance to perform a ritual on the Peace Arch," he said, referring to the monument that celebrated the almost two hundred years of an undefended Canada-US border. He heard the words of the chant and shuddered hard enough that several feathers flew off his body.
"They're transforming the Peace Arch from a symbol of peace into a magical artifact that enforces a peace spell over this region."
"That's good, right?" Craig asked. "Then there'll be no battle."
"To hell with peace..." Thundrax growled, and the sky growled as well
"The peace spell is one-sided. Their host will be shielded from it, but we will be affected." Ravenspeaker informed.
"Our armies will be unable to defend themselves!" Vancouver said, realizing the gravity of the situation.
"The ritual is strong, but not all-consuming. Some trained soldiers should be able to shake it off." Ravenspeaker noted.
"Even if all of them resist, even a moment of hesitation in battle, at the wrong time, could turn it into a rout," the Captain realized. "This is the sticking point. It will be diffficult enough even for the Rocket Brigade to fight those nightmares, evem without the cogitations added by such a baleful curse. That rite will be our downfall. It must be undone if we are to stand a chance of living to see two more sunrises."
"Destroy peace..." Thundrax said, and the sky growled again as he chuckled.
"We are at the pinch of the game," Vancouver stated with a frown. "Bird, can you take the walking storm to the encampment? I wish to grant him the element of surprise."
"I need no feathered fool!" Thundrax said, anger and the focus from Craig sharpening his senses. "I ride my own storm into war!"
"They'll have shielded their camp from your thunderbolts," Ravenspeaker said. "I can take you. And they will be surprised." The bird cackled with pleasure, contemplating a hundred tricks.
"I need to go as well," Craig said. "Thundrax is strongest when I'm holding the box nearby. You want him to defeat the shark-men? I have to be there. The box will protect me. It always has."
Ravenspeaker nodded. "Very well." he said, and he began to prepare a spell.
Miles from city hall, far and yet all too near, General Amphibioch looked down at his map and frowned. Deep within his altered, reptilian mind, he had already conquered the insignificant city of Vancouver and was ready to wage his campaign westward, over the broad expanse of the Pacific to set his metal monsters against the great technocracy of Multifarian Japan, with its forboding past and legendary future. He had left the tawdry details of his campaign to his subordinates, who were hungry for prizes, and to the thirty unstoppable war engines that had crossed the Rockies without missing a step. Nonetheless, as he contemplated his next campaign and his vespers to the Citizen, he realized in his gut that something of significance was about to occur. He fingered the hilt of his dagger on his belt and looked skyward, wondering when the inevitable storm would fall.
Three times magical storms had buffeted the camp, three times the mages had beaten them back before they could fall, and three times, they had turned out not to be the Thunder That Walks, but Tzinquaw, the Thunderbird, borne on a mistral wind by the spirits of Emerald Seattle, preceded by the scents of adolescent rebellion, a retaliatory strike for the atrocities they had committed. The karkardon sorcerers had laughed at them. Still, every time he contemplated the forces of this place and the Thunder that Walks, he fingered his dagger and waited for the moment when the local hero marched to his doom.
They always did.
The karkardon circle sang a song of peace, a mockery on this campaign, but Amphibioch considered it a pleasant irony. These Canadians were so proud of their peace... and what a very strange thing to be proud of, two centuries of cowardly coexistence? How marvelous that such folly would be turned into the instrument of their undoing!
"General Amphibioch," one of his lieutenants reported. "Our ritual is attracting locals. Peace activists."
"Kill them," Amphibioch ordered.
"The sorcerer-general informs us that our spell will naturally attract such people," the lieutenant continued. "Killing them may even disrupt the ritual."
"Perhaps they're harmless. But they could also be spies," Amphibioch noted." If they do anything that's even the slightest bit suspicious, kill them on the spot."
The lieutenant nodded. Amphibioch watched while the peace activists sat cross-legged at the border and chatted quietly. A few of them cracked jokes about how sharks were misunderstood. They're a predators, you dolts, Amphibioch thought contemptuously. Predators. The easiest thing to understand in the world.
The peace activists listened to the song that was being sung at the peace arch and then began to sing along. Their voices harmonized with the dreadful anthem, and the song seemed to become even more puissant for its added voices. Amphibioch listened to it... he smiled for a moment, recognizing its power, but then he detected an underlying note in the song, a bass rumble that harmonized itself, insidiously, with the main chorus of the magicks, but didn't belong. Raising a magic conch shell to his lips, the commander blew the alarm, and then shouted: "Kill them! Kill them now!"
That note was a sound of distant thunder, disguised. That note now took shape and form, a storm personified as a naked man. He -- or it -- fell upon the sorcerers, laughing, a hideous sound that Amphioch could respect. He even smiled as he watched the storm swirl around the sorcerous circle, lifting them off the ground and, one by one, propelling them into the waiting arms of Thundrax, who, one by one, crushed their skulls. The peace activists changed shape. merging into the form of a small boy who was holding a box that was now too big for his fingers, he sat it down on the ground and held it in both hands.
Thundrax waded into the heart of the karkardon host, surrounded by howling winds and the fall of lightning. Now Amphibioch was no longer amused by how easily his men were falling. He raised his conch again and sounded a second war trumpet. Several miles southward, ten of the metal war engines, the Mega-Destroyers, roused from their slumber and advanced toward the Thunder that Walks.
Thundrax started at the sound and to toward Amphibioch, a palpable wrath. His karkadon hosts scattered, the commander prepared himself to face the oncoming storm.
"I will kill you now!" Thundrax raged.
"Then I will be elsewhere, now!" Amphibioch answered, and with a thought he teleported away. Thundrax raged and slew any karardon unlucky enough to come within his grasp, oblivious to the enemy's own Death that Walks, each of the Mega-Destroyer's strides resonating like a walking earthquake, closing rapidly.
The commander rematerialized within thirty yards of the boy and drew his dagger. Other karkadons were attacking Craig, but as long as he held the box, he, like the box itself, was nigh indestructible.
"You can't hurt me!" the now very small boy taunted the huge mutant. "You can't! You can't!"
Amphibioch's crooked face shaped itself into a toothy grin and, ignoring the other men's failures, he came within slashing distance of the boy. "We knew you'd come. We were prepared. Citizen Harmon gave it to me personally," he said.
"Wha-wha do you mean?" Craig said, startled as Amphibioch grabbed him with one hand on his shirt scruff and held him high in the air. He shouldn't have been able to touch him.
"With the knife of Kuntarra, he knife of separation, the ancients cut the cord between heaven and earth itself. This, the most ancient of mythic blades, is more powerful than even your box. As it is written, deep magic from the dawn of time is superceded by deeper magic from before the dawn of time."
"Thundrax, help!" Craig shouted.
"It can cut through anythng. It can separate anything I choose..."
"First I choose to separate you from your courage," Amphibioch said, and he stabbed Craig in the chest. It drew no blood, but Craig screamed. "Second, I choose to separate you from pride, and dignity, and love!"
"No!!" Craig sobbed.
"Third I choose to separate you from all bonds with your champion!" Amphibioch said, and he slashed at Craig's hands. Craig and the sky screamed in unison. A thunderbolt struck the mutant general, but he ignored it. "And now that you are utterly alone and in despair absolute, I choose to separate you from time itself, so this moment will last an eternity for you!" He slashed at Craig's throat.
Craig sat still as a ghost in his hands, eyes and mouth open wide in horror.
"And finally, I separate you from life. I cut you from the holiest cords of all, so you will die!"
Amphibioch stabbed Craig in the chest. The boy fell over, dead, his hands slipping from the wooden folds of the box of Tarhunt. The commander let the boy fall to the ground and kicked the box like a football.
Thunder was raging, and the sky was wild with grief. Thundrax's wrath was unbridled, but without the psychic contact with the Box of Tarhunt, his strength was greatly diminished. He could slay any karkadon within his grasp, but the war engines were a different story. Crowned with fire and steel, the Mega-Destroids had come. Four of them advanced on the demi-god, unleashing atomic fire from their eyes. Thundrax, devoid of reason, was now purely an animal and he howled like an animal. But this merely was the overture. The symphony came under the footfall of the Mega-Destroyer. He raged, but his rage was crushed beneath its heel, a symbol of the contempt of its loathesome creator. After the third stomp, the mighty Thundrax was unconscious. After the twentieth stomp, his bloody naked form was as dead as Craig's. Vancouver lay open to the enemy.
"Well," the Captain said, ignoring the tears that welled in his eyes. His heart was consumed with the thought of vengeance. "It's up to you, bird."
Ravenspeaker shook his broken wing. "I am no warrior, Tax'et's arrow has seen to that. I can do my best to trick them, but I fear I have no power to fool the metal monstrosities."
"Have they restarted the ritual?"
"Yes. It will be completed soon."
The Captain shook his head. "This is my city. Here, I am absolute and yet I have always relied on others to do my bidding. No longer."
"You are no warrior," Ravenspeaker noted. "You ran from that duel in London, did you not?" He referred to an incident that took place in London in 1796, when George Vancouver had been accosted in the streets by a disgraced subordinate. Unwilling to draw steel, he had had to rely on his brother to defend him. That had been the first of his acts of cowardice, the one that had started him down the path of shackles.
"It matters not," Vancouver said. " The boy died in fear, and pain, and I will have a gruesome revenge, and I will take it with my own hand."
Ravenspeaker lifted his head. "But.. you are chained. How can you hope to fight?"
"I built these bonds from the desire to escape, forging them link by cowardly link. Now I escape no longer. Now I will do what I could always do, had I the courage. I will reshape my personal prison into a mighty fortress."
"Harken to my song, Raven, and watch this city fight for its own." With that, the Captain once again drew from the magicks of the city:
"Four men in a rock 'n roll band
Fly at night in the morning we land
Fly at night 'til we're satisfied
See the morning from the otherside
"And when you close your eyes
Sleep comes fast
When you fly the universe
Well, you need some rest
Yeah, you need some rest
"Ooh, we like the big wide spaces
Yeah, we like a sea of faces
Time is just a rubber band
Time is at our command
"And when we look out
And see you there
You seem much closer
And you feel so near
Yeah, you feel so near
"Well we fly by night, it's like a rocket flight
And baby that's just what it's for
Yeah, we fly by night, it makes you feel alright
It keeps you coming back for more."
"You do realize that song is about sex?" Ravenspeaker quipped. But the Captain didn't allow the comment to perforate his dignity. All songs from that time were about eros, Vancouver might have replied, but he did not. The chains fell from his body with a heavy clatter, and shaped by the lord's will, they swelled and grew, reshaping themselves into a vessel of black steel, a metal sky galleon. The captain strode onto the gangplank and boarded the ship.
"You will not be a match for the war engines." Ravenspeaker stated.
"I will at least avenge myself on the childslayer," the duke promised. "And leave behind a field of slaughter where your kind can feast upon karkadon carcasses for at least a fortnight. Do what you can while I am away!"
The sky fortress rose into the sky. The Captain fired a cannon shot in challenge and, much like the rocket in song, soared southeast to the border. The faintest hints of dawn were beginning to break in the eastern sky, an irony, considering that from that direction, the darkness had also come. "In day shall vengeance alight, the hand of Vancouver's might." he said, ignoring the fact that he had never been much of a poet.
He came upon the karkardon host with forty cannons blazing, without warning, for even the sorcerers had no reason to suspect this assault. His first target was the Peace Arch, which he destroyed in a single volley of his full armament, killing the sorcerers who were pronouncing the ritual. Amphibioch immediately winded his horn, summoning the war engines to attack the newcomer.
Tacking furiously in the wind, Vancouver brought his vessel around to attack the main host, which was regrouping after the terrifying assault by Thundrax. The host broke morale and scattered; with the mountains behind them, they surged forward to the city. Vancouver cursed. He had not anticipated that. But he did not have time to fire a second volley, as the ship was rocked by several eyebeams. The Mega-Destroids were targeting his cannons, and each shot turned one of them into molten slag. The Duke could have reformed them with a thought, but he had other concerns. The ship's speed afforded him some protection against the war engines, but he had not come here to wage a defensive struggle. His target was the commander, but the ship was moving so rapidly, wrankling furiously in its turns, that he could barely spot a thing on the ground. Fortunately, he had a workaround. Raising his spyglass to his eye, he relied on its ability to see to bring his prey into sight. It did not fail him. With a joyful shout, George Vancouver dove onto Amphibioch and, commanding the ships' railings to become chains, he lashed out at the huge mutant and snared him, throwing him onto the deck. Vancouver unsheathed his saber from his sword-belt and advanced on the enemy.
Amphibioch grinned and drew a spear in one hand and the dagger of Kuntarra in the other. "Are you that child's father? Do you know how he died?"
"I know how he died, cur," Vancouver growled. "And all of the peoples of this city are my children."
"In my day I was ridiculed for treating the peculiar peoples I encountered with kindness and generosity," Vancouver stated. "But my faith has been rewarded tenfold. For all my city's woes, it is still marvellous to behold so many peoples of different skins and eyes unite to create a vibrant and noble metropolis. They take it for granted, and that is a blessing, but I do not."
"Fool," Amphibioch sneered. "Their blood all tastes the same, and that is what matters to me."
"Feast elsewhere, dog!" Vancouver snarled. "Such a city was but a dream to the philosophers of my day! What enlightenment has united. I will not permit you to sunder!"
"Really?" Amphibioch mocked, smiling brightly as he broke the chains and rushed at the captain.
Not long ago, Vancouver would have tried to flee, but those days were over. Now the captain calmly stood his ground until the last second, side stepping the charge and slicing at the mutant's back. Amphibioch yelped -- the sword was as potent as Vancouver's contempt for the creature -- and pivoted toward the Duke.
"With this dagger, I separate you from your sword ski---"
"Be silent!" Vancouver snarled. A chain threaded itself around Amphibioch's arm, and Vancouver stabbed at the wrist, causing the mutant to drop the knife of Kuntarra before he could complete the sentence. Calmly George Vancouver picked up the weapon, ancient, unadorned, and unlovely. "With this knife, monster, I separate you from whatever delusions you hold about your character. See thyself as thou art, verily!" Vancouver proclaimed, slashing at the man's eyes. Again, the weapon drew no blood nor caused physical injury, but Amphibioch's eyes opened wide in horror. He was a slave, a mere instrument for Citizen Harmon, a man who was hardly worth championing, save for the scraps of power that he fed his followers, like an owner throwing scraps of rancid meat to his dogs. The chains around the mutant tightened, and another fetter fastened itself around his throat. "I separate you from any belief that strength supersedes nobility of character, and that those you persecuted deserved whatever fate you bestowed on them, on account of their weakness, for that is the lie fascists and sadists have always told from mankind's earliest days, when he skulked in caves and trees, fearing the world."
Amphibioch started, but could say nothing as Vancouver slashed at his mouth.
"I separate you from the foul perfidies that you committed this eve, so the blights you have placed upon the world will be removed from time. Live Craig Carson, and bring with thee your thunder!" the Duke shouted, and he stabbed Amphibioch in the vitals.
On the ground below, the Mega-Destroids were alight with lightning, like great metal pyres. Empowered by the box and the force of Craig's will (though Carson was now scarcely older than a toddler) Thundrax had fought almost as fiercely as Canada's Greatest Athlete, Gene Kiniski. The storm god had been busy.
"Lastly, I separate you from your ambitions, that you will live the rest of your life without purpose." Vancouver stated, stabbing him in the stomach. He almost cracked a smile. "Now, away with you, creature, and may a thousand devils torment you!" he added, and the chains suddenly seized up and hurled the man overboard.
The ship rocked --and Vancouver's satisfaction and hopes faded. The remaining twenty metal war engines had come, and they were coordinating their patterns to blanket the entire sky with fire. Ten trained their gazes on him, ten attacked the newly reborn Thundrax, and the others implemented their repair circuits to put them back in the fight. "It is for naught," Vancouver said, realizing that even a weapon as powerful as the dagger would not prevail against that host. "I have fought a good fight, for a change. That is as fine an epitaph as any other."
He landed near Craig and stood near the boy, pressing his almost infant fingers against the Box. Even if Thundrax somehow prevailed, Craig would revert to a state where he ceased to be, and if Thundrax fell, so would Craig -- that was the nature of their bond. Vancouver tried to think of something he could safely use the dagger separate to restore the man, even an abstract concept, but nothing came to mind.
And then, as dawn broke in the sky, there came a flight of ravens, led by a six-eyed white raven with a broken wing that should not have been able to fly, yet danced gaily in the sky, unwounded, circling the host. Not a warrior? He should have remembered the bird was such a liar! From the direction whence the crows had come, under the gyre of that dreaded umbra, issued the screams of the shark-men. Vancouver raised his spyglass and beheld a host of eyes moving in twilight shadow, meeting the northward fleeing host of karkardons and devouring them utterly.
The eyes of the damned, of the internment camp. Ravenspeaker had set them free. It was a madness born of desperation, but the Captain could not bring himself to judge the bird. He pressed the tiny boy's hands against the Box. He knew it would protect them, but he also knew that the shadows would not stop. He kissed the boy's forehead and walked toward the shadow host. He bent down on one knee.
"I have never apologized for my city's actions and the incalculable wrong it has done to you," Vancouver said. "My days of running are over. Harrow me if you must, devour me if that is your wont, judge me according to your will. But I am a shackled man no longer, and this day the sun will rise over a city unsullied by the chattel of Citizen Harmon. I am content!"
The host did not stop, bu neither did they touch him. Did they actually forgive him? Unthinkable. Yet he was spared, as was the Man of Walking Thunder. Instead they fell upon the Mega Destroids, and devoured them, leaving nothing, not even salvage. As they had in life, the interred shadows had only desired to do good for the city, despite the fear and injustice of its people that had imprisoned and despoiled them. It was a realization that filled the Captain with a deep shame, yet he was intensely proud. The good in Vancouver had, if it had not righted an ancient wrong. prevailed over it. He picked up the infant Craig and his box, and whispered into his ear. The sky suddenly alighted, and the storm clouds dissipated, and Thundrax vanished. Craig would not be able to summon him again for years, until he had grown again. Nodding at the titan in gratitude, George Vancouver again boarded his ship and set sail for City Hall, met by a score of Rocket Men.
The situation was still dire. With the destruction of Amphibioch's host, the people of Emerald Seattle rebelled, slaying a Shadow Colossus by impaling it with the Space Needle. Citizen Harmon sent a second host into the west, a larger one led by Corendum. However, then the unthinkable happened: heroes from another world, including a different Craig Carson (one who was integrated with his Thundrax) freed the true master of the Mega-Destroids, the man who would be a scientific God, and together they drove Citizen Harmon from the Multifarian. The second host abandoned the western campaign, and gradually the conquered lands were restored to the quicksilver existence they had enjoyed before, though the area around New Harmon would remain troubled, and resist the tides of Multifaria for quite some time. Let it struggle. Vancouver thought. That battle was for other men, though he would be grateful if such a foe as Harmon was not permitted to return.
On a terrace in Vancouver City hall, there sat a cradle, where an infant lay next to an old wooden box, sucking his thumb while he watched the cumulous clouds roll in from the Pacific. One day, George Vancouver knew, the storm would return when it was needed. One day. Part of him dreaded the anticipation, but for the most part, the duke would welcome that sight, knowing that as long as it was capable of returning, the city would never be completely undefended.