Fantastic Tales – Ch 20: “The Dawn of Terror!”

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as narrated by Terry “Waterskimmer” Aquella

    Disasters happen. It’s a fact of life. No matter how much we prepare, things will always go wrong on a grand scale sooner or later.

    “Um, boss, why I am being assaulted by a squad of squids?” Seadancer, my protege, asked.

    “I think the question you want to ask is why you’re not also being assaulted by a troop of sharks and eels.” I replied. The telepathy spell that connected us gave me a sense of both her position and her current physical state. She was excited, a bit distracted and breathing heavily. She was also almost a mile under the mid-Atlantic. For anyone else the combination of those traits would have been a bad combination. For my protege it meant I could relax and focus on fighting my own battle for the moment. She was a lot tougher than she looked.

    “Sharks and Eels? I’m too deep for them boss. Is that the kind of action you’re seeing up there?” she asked.

    “Yeah. I’m almost at the portal and their numbers are increasing fast the closer I get.” I explained.

    “I thought we were going in stealthy on this one?” Seadancer asked. Through the link I could tell that she was diving rapidly, probably to escape the mind controlled squids.

    “That was the plan.” I agreed.

    “What happened to the plan? I liked that plan!” she said.

    “The same thing that happened to most plans. It met the real world.” I said as another wave of hostile aquatic life approached me. I should have been able to swim past them. This should have been a stealth mission like Seadancer said. Instead we’d been hit with True-Seeing enchanted mutant sea life minutes after we reached our individual target sites. It was gratifying, to some extent, that whoever was behind the portals was expending as much energy against us as they were. A year ago, I’d been a fledgling super hero myself. To be standing on my own against the worst a globe spanning society of villains could throw at me felt like a huge accomplishment.

    “The squids kind of caught me. Can I zap them?” Seadancer asked.

    “Lightly!” I told her. “Just focus on reaching the portal. These creatures are as much the victims here as anyone else.”

    “Trust me, these things are not looking very victim like. I’m pretty sure they’ve been fed a steady diet of mean and ugly their whole life.”

    “We also need to be able to capture the entities that have control of them. They can’t leave the bodies on their own but if you kill the host their free to find another one.” I explained. We hadn’t gone over that information in the briefing because nothing in the reports that we’d read had said anything about mind controlled sea life as one of the possible dangers. The portals we were working to shut presented enough of a threat on their own that most people who summoned them didn’t bother with additional guards.

    My own attackers were getting a little too close for comfort so I mustered the energy for another wide area sleep spell. It was a more gentle path than shocking them into unconsciousness the way Seadancer did but it was still effective.

    “What’s our next move once we get the portals closed? Are we going after the people who summoned them?” Seadancer asked. She was descending again.

    “Stay focused on the portals. Worry about what we’ll be doing later once we have these contained.” I told her. I’d restricted her access to our standard communication channels to help her keep her mind on the mission and I wasn’t about to distract her with the news of what was happening in the rest of the world.

    The team I was part of, the Investigators, took an unusually active role in rooting out trouble in the world. We’d seen disasters happen too many times, had seen the world on the brink of destruction and had even seen it fall over the edge of that brink more than once. We made it our job to search for the disasters that were lurking out there and head off as many of them as we could. We didn’t labor under the illusion that we could get them all but the more we knew, and the earlier we caught a disaster in the making, the better our chances were of doing something about it.

    In this case the disaster-du-jour was one we’d been tracking down for a while. It had started with whispered rumors and minor reports of trouble that didn’t seem to add up to much. Those had been the result of the early meetings of the “Society of Enlightenment”.

    Don’t let the name fool you, the Society’s definition of “enlightenment” is specifically “when those beneath us are enlightened as to the wisdom of letting us rule them.” They were a group of super villains in the classic mold. The only difference in their methods were that they’d learned from the failures of past villain groups. They never met in person for one thing (harder to backstab each other that way). In fact they did very little to forward their plans themselves. Catpaws and disposable pawns seemed to be the only people any of them employed.

    That made them an extremely difficult enemy to pin down. Most of the more public super groups as well as the various law enforcement organizations that we work with came up empty on their investigations. At best they would nab some low level operatives but the trail would end there. Where the Investigators lucked out was in our personnel department.

    Unlike most super groups and pretty much all law enforcement agencies, our ranks included both super powered heroes and former villains who we’ve been able to recruit. Funny thing about “villains”, a lot of them are people too, and a lot of them take a dim view on world conquering (or ending) events.

    We couldn’t work with all of the people we fought against of course, but we also didn’t write off people who misused their powers as irredeemable either. As a result of that policy we had Operative Jane, among other ex-villains, working for us. Jane was special for a number of reasons. In a fight she was fast and deadly, with psychic abilities that could disable a whole range of foes. The real power she brought to the team was more subtle though. Jane was an information analyst first and foremost. Her psychic abilities let her process data with a level of depth and insight that the best computers in the world couldn’t match.

    Where the other teams failed, Jane was able to see the big picture. From the bits of random data, she pulled out the shadows of the movers and shakers behind the Society of Enlightenment.

    We took one of their leaders down in Vladivostok. That proved that they were real. The assassin’s they sent for him proved that they were serious. From there we went underground and started laying bait and traps for them.

    The oceans are huge and full of hidden wonders. They’re a perfect place to look for good hiding spots or lost magics, both of which the Society seemed to be eagerly in pursuit of. Seadancer and I had chased down all sorts of clues on the hunt for them. From sea caverns that housed the ruins of ancient inhuman cults to ocean traveling “hydrobases” that disguised themselves as islands, we’d been around the world in our pursuit of the Society’s leaders. Our teammates had searched for them in crowded cities and in the most remote corners of the Earth. We’d sent teams to clear the Society’s influence out from the orbital colonies that were being constructed and we’d sent teams into the depths of the Earth to prevent the villains from unleashing terrors that had been bound in slumber there for millions of years.

    We’d fought them so effectively that we’d pushed them to enact their final gambit.

    Jane had seen the shape of the problem coming but despite our best efforts we hadn’t been able to find the information she needed to nail down the precise details of their plan.

    It had almost come as a relief when we got the call that portals were being detected in the oceans. Portals aren’t a bad thing in general but ones that open up in hard to reach places on their own tend to lead to dimensions the Earth would rather not do business with.

    I didn’t think that closing the portals would be enough to stop the Society’s plans, but it was a necessary first step. The only other alternative was to let them think they’d won and catch them when they’re guard was down. It was how we’d taken out Inferno, the leader who we’d captured in Vladivostok. The problem with that approach was that convincing them they’d won, or at least were certain to win, meant putting people in real danger, and when you’re dealing with portals to other worlds that could mean billions of people would be at risk.

    The other problem with just closing the portals was that they were only one part of the Society’s plan. Seadancer and I were on our way to the portals we’d been assigned to close when word came in that several major cities were under attack by mutant animal/human hybrids. Unity City was the hardest hit, as usual, but Rome, Kuala Lumpur, Brassport, New Dehli and Sydney were reporting similar attacks as well. Whatever the Society’s ultimate plan was they’d built a lot of redundancy into it.

    “I’ve lost the squid squad and I have a visual on the portal.” Seadancer reported.

    “Good. Remember this is a quick in and out. Once you deploy the talisman that I gave you, you should have around ten minutes of shielding. You need to get into the portal and destroy projector on the other side.” I reminded her.

    “I’m not going to be stranded there right?” she asked.

    “Nope. The talisman anchors you to this reality. If you start running out of time I’ll join you.” I said. The talisman was as much a beacon for my magic as it was a tool for Seadancer to use. Teleporting to it’s location would be taxing but worth it if that was needed.

    Ahead of me, illuminating the deep dark waters that I swam though, I caught sight of the portal I’d been assigned to shut. Many magical gates appear as two dimensional windows between the worlds. Swirls of mist are common and storms of energy lashing out from them are something you can expect if the portal leads to an innately hostile environment. Human sized portals have one of the lowest energy requirements, so you don’t tend to see very small ones or portals that are much bigger than a school bus.

    It took me a moment to absorb that the portal I was speeding towards had none of those traits.

    Rather than a disk, it had swelled into a full globe. Instead of energy lashing out of it, the inside of the portal was a dazzling mess where arcs of raw power ripped from one side of the sphere to the other. It also wasn’t the size of a school bus. It was the size of a football stadium.

    I felt a chill go through me that had nothing to do with the temperature of the water. Whatever the portal was designed to allow into our world was not going to be small.

    “Boss, I’m at the portal, on a scale of one to ten it’s good-god-enormous!” Seadancer said.

    “Mine too. Hold position. I’ll deal with mine and we’ll see how tough they are. I do not want you going into the portal until I give the word. That amulet’s shielding will last a lot less than ten minutes against something this big.” I said.

    “Roger that. Not tossing myself into the giant maelstrom of death until you say so.” she said. “You better hurry though boss. It looks like this thing is getting agitated.”

    I gritted my teeth and kicked up my speed. Whatever the Society planned to summon through these portals, I was not going to let it get here.

    Opening a portal to a hostile dimension takes a tremendous amount of force. Closing one is usually trivial – unless the portal opener knows what they’re doing. I reached out to touch the edge of the sphere as I arrived at it and was not at all surprised to learn that the Society knew how to open portals very well.

    A year ago, I would have had to call in help. I could have slowed the growth of a portal like this but closing it would have been far beyond me. It’s amazing what a year can do for you though. Reaching in to the wellspring of the magic within me, I sent it forth not into the portal but into the ocean around me.

    The Earth doesn’t like being invaded. It doesn’t like interlopers from other worlds trying to impose their reality on it. The ocean is only one part of the world, but it’s a fairly large part and its spirit is strong in ways that dwarf my understanding of the word “strong”. The power I shared with it was a conduit to allow the spirit of the ocean to move. I gave it the strength of my body and it gave me back a strength a billion times more powerful.

    For moment I was lost in the rush of transcendent power but, like water, it flowed through me and out into the portal. The mystic energies of my world met the mystic energies of whatever hellscape the Society had called into contact with us. The energies clashed for supremacy for only an instant. The portal was powerful, but the ocean had the home field advantage. It popped the portal like a soap bubble and consumed the power the hellscape had been trying to throw against it.

    That’s the thing about my Earth. It’s not a safe place. Plenty of people have tried to invade it, those that fail don’t tend to enjoy the results.

    “Boss! Something’s coming through the portal. Something…” her voice cut off.

    Her telepathic voice.

    I reached out to find her and came up empty. She wasn’t hurt, or injured or even dying. My magic couldn’t feel any trace of her. She was completely gone!

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