“Bet our president wouldn’t be part of a super-strike force against magical jackasses,” Tammy mused aloud as she, President Esteban-Vega, and Tink strode toward the main gates of Mara Sangua. “Are you the coolest world leader, or does Queen Charlotte fight aliens in another dimension on the weekends?”
She was practically skipping around her two relatively silent teammates, occasionally checking the shaped iron bars strapped to her wrists to make sure she was able to fight at the moment’s notice. When she got no reply, she huffed in annoyance and started kicking at roots along the path.
The void of conversation she left behind didn’t take long to get to the others and it was the President who cracked first. “I know what we’ve done here isn’t right.” She kept her eyes straight ahead as she walked, not even glancing aside to see if Tink was responding. “Yes, there are some of us who genuinely worry about the dangers we personally present, but you’re right: that was never really the spirit of The Separation Act.”
After a few yards walked in silence, she continued, “The… descendants… of Columbia had spent a generation being abused, treated like weapons and tools instead of people. When we overthrew the cartels and the government they’d taken control of through corruption and coercion, people were angry and afraid. They wanted to make sure no one ever held that kind of power over them again.”
Her shoulders slumped. “That’s what the Separation Act is really about: Revenge. Against the ‘normal’ people they felt left them to suffer. And once they got a taste of that power… some of them refuse to let go of that.”
More silence. Then it was Tink who spoke. “Then what are you going to do about it?”
The president sighed quietly into the sultry night air and set her gaze on the dread gates of her long-time prison. “I’ve spent years thinking on that and honestly my hope is that you and your magically inclined friend are the solution I’ve been praying for. If everyone in Columbia has the same access and potential for power then the popular justification for the Separation Act becomes…”
An odd noise from up ahead made her pause. In the darkness, it looked like there were shadows moving in the void where once rebel forces blew off the gates of the Mara Sangua.
She stopped. “…invalidated. Am I seeing things?”
Tink pulled her goggles down over her eyes and casually flicked them into infrared mode. “No you’re not.” In her vision, she saw only deeper shadows; all humanoid, but without the telltale heat signatures of living things.
“Are those people?” Tammy was squinting to try and make anything of the shadows. “Weren’t their warrior guys like… tiny?”
Shaking her head, Tink pressed her lips into a narrow line. “These aren’t the same things. My infrared says they’re colder than the surrounding air. They’re probably some kind of magical construct or something.”
Tammy glared into the gloom. “Is it some kind of unicorn thing? Because I owe those guys. One for trying to feed my best friend to raptors. And the other for ruining unicorns. They’re supposed to be sweet and innocent and fart rainbows, damn it!”
Someone or something must have heard her because the old security lights surrounding the light suddenly flared to life. Tink looked away despite her goggles adjusting for the sudden brilliance quickly enough to avoid letting it blind her.
What the light revealed were corpses; shambling, animate corpses spilling from the gates of Mara Sangua. In various states of decay from ruined and rotting to desiccated near-skeletons, they were also rimed with frost that bound together limbs and flesh that would have otherwise fallen or sloughed off.
“I’m kind of scared to get excited now.” Tammy said almost quietly. “I was excited to go to the Lost Word and to see unicorns and dinosaurs and stuff and that was a huge disappointment, so fighting zombies? This is gonna suck, isn’t it?”
“Remember this is magic we’re dealing with,” Tink replied, talking a little too rapidly to seem calm. “They might not be anything like what we’d call a zombie. La Dama, I can immobilize them while… La Dama?”
It was at that point that she realized that the President had gone still. Her former personal hero was staring at the horde of frost-rimed zombies with wide, disbelieving eyes. Her jaw was working, but no words were coming out. After a long moment, she started shaking her head.
After looking from the shaken woman to the monsters shambling out of the gates, it didn’t take long for Tink to put together who the zombies were—or rather who they had been. And from there, it became obvious what La Dama was seeing.
Unfortunately, it took that same amount of time for Tammy to decide that whether or not they knew the ‘rules’ of these zombies, she wasn’t going to let them get close enough to bite her. Aiming with her fists, she channeled her power through the steel rods mounted to her forearms, sending a pair of crackling purple lightning bolts into the creatures’ midst.
It forked from icy patch to icy patch, defying physics s it followed magical not physical paths of least resistance before finally seeking ground without having so much as slowed any of them.
Effective or not, the show of force was enough for La Dama, who shouted out, “No!” before rounding on the younger girl. “Why did you do that to them? Do you know what they’ve been through?” She lunged for her, but Tammy Kaine, The Irrepressible Spark, had grown up playing tag with Isp and Osp, who were some of the fastest things in existence without actual speed-altering powers.
She dodged back and scampered away. “Whoa! What gives? They’re zombies!”
“They’re innocent people forced to work until they’re nearly dead!” La Dama fired back. She reared back with a first suddenly spiked with obsidian only for a green armored hand caught her wrists.
“Juanita!” Tink interposed herself between Tammy and the enraged politician. Even with her goggles on, her glare was almost a physical force. “Whatever—whoever you’re seeing right now, they aren’t real! Remember what we said about the unicorns? They’re making you see things!”
There was a cracking sound followed by a sharp pain in Tink’s palm and she was forced to release her grip on La Dama’s wrist because a chunk of obsidian had punctured her gauntlet and the flesh beneath. This was followed by an expertly executed palm-heel strike that knocked her to the ground.
“Don’t tell me that,” snapped La Dama, staring coldly down at her fallen comrade. “They’re alive. I didn’t… If they’re alive, I didn’t kill them. They can move on, live free…”
“Eat brains,” Tammy interjected and fired off more blasts of electricity, this time aiming for part that weren’t covered in ice. This time two zombies actually fell, twitching. “Look at them! They’re so rotted that the ice is holding them together.”
She hopped away when La Dama barged toward her aiming for another punch.
“Come on!” Still taunting, she now started taking pot shots at the monsters, doing the twin jobs of keeping them moving away from the slow horde and keeping the delusional woman focused on her. “Do you think they’re been just hanging out here pretending to be dead? Or do you believe us that evil goat-horses from a magical land are messing with your brain-meat? Use logic, damn it!”
“Don’t you think I know they’re dead?!” La Dama bellowed, staggering to a halt. Spikes and spines and jagged plates of dark volcanic glass were sprouting all over her body. “I’m the one who killed them! I stabbed them, and slashed them and tore them apart. I watched them in their terror and their suffering in their last moments! I know they’re dead and I won’t let you desecrate their bodies!”
Tink took aim with her gauntlets. Focusing on ignoring the pain in her injured hand, she reached the decision that having the President immobilized—even in the midst of swarming enemies—was less dangerous than leaving her free.
And she would have fired too, if it hadn’t been for the laugh.
In almost two decades of life, Christina Carlyle had heard what she thought was the full range of laughter. Playful giggles from babies, the uncontrollable cackles of friends having fun, the classic ‘muahaha’ of a villain too full of themselves—and so many more.
This was not one of those laughs. It spoke of a deep enjoyment beyond mere happiness and on into something existential. It was rich but somehow light; amused and deeply, smugly satisfied. Her mind’s eye just painted in a hand holding a glass of red wine, a monocle and a truly epic mustache.
Not only that, but it cut through the nose of the ghoulish monsters, the crackle of electricity, and even La Dama’s enraged shout.
That was the part that got her to turn around—just in time to see a pair of stone paddles smash a pair of zombies to the ground.
On the other end of those panels stood a gorilla. A gorilla with fur as black as arctic night under a new moon and six feet at the stooped shoulder with eyes that glowed faintly red and a pair of horns that jutted forward from its forehead before curving backward.
As she watched, transfixed by the oddity, two more paddle-wielding gorillas leapt from the shadows, annihilating zombies with stone and hairy fist.
The laugh came again, but (thankfully, Tink would recall later) not from the gorillas. No, that honor belonged to a lithe, stately jaguar that padded through the simian carnage, only occasionally sidestepping as a zombie met its terrible second end.
“I would say that they were desecrated the moment they were touched by Jotun magics—much like this entire situation’s been sullied in so many ways.” The jaguar’s mouth formed the words by twisting in a discomfitingly human way as to stalked toward the trio.
Its—or rather his by the voice—words shook La Dama out of her stupor as she looked on in horror at the destruction of the zombies. Apes punched and crushed and slammed already withered bodies to so much dust and snow. “What are you doing?!” She demanded.
“Livening things up,” replied the jaguar with a shrug. “Really, the last little while has been too dull for anything involving dinosaurs, dark elves and the discover of another anti-Maeve artifact. I blame the guardian there for getting us on this rather tired argument over ‘thou shalt not kill’, but the zombies? The last desperate gasp of someone running out of ideas, I’d say.”
The jaguar turned to look back into the Mara Sangua. “I expected more of the Jotun Queen’s top servants.”
Around him, the gorillas continued their work; Stone paddles crushing heads, massive hands grabbing and hurling shambling bodies. La Dama bristled at this, both emotionally and literally as more obsidian barbels burst out all over her arms. “Make them stop. Make them stop—or I’ll do it!”
A low growl emerged from the jaguar. “With due respect Madame President; but your allies are correct: your mind is being muddled by the asses of Alfheim. Normally, I’d be impressed by the workmanship of such manipulations, but they’re getting in the way of my own entertainment, so…”
Pushing off the ground with its forelimbs, the big cat stood. In doing so, it body flowed and transformed, transforming into a tall, thin man with a pointed chin and defined Roman nose. The gold and black-spotted fur of the jaguar became a waistcoat over a shirt of dark golden silk and black trousers with shiny, black boots. Flowing blonde hair dusted with black strands framed his head, spilling down his shoulders, tamed only by a hat that looked like the skull of a jaguar with a pair of black lacquered horns sprouting from the forehead.
He raised a hand, thrusting toward La Dama. She winced, hands flying to her temples as in her perception bright light flooded her senses.
Without waiting to see how she recovered, the stranger smirked at the remaining two heroines. “I suppose introductions are in order. Ladies, I am call Lokke, son of Fárbauti and Laufey. But you might know me better as Loki, god of trickery and lies.”
He shot a stern look in Tammy’s direction, anticipated her reaction and added dryly, “And no, I am not another superhero taking the nomme de guerre of a god. I am Loki; returned for the war with the Air and Darkness, my own people perverted and corrupted by Maeve.”
His expression melted into something less hard and more disarmingly charming as behind him the gorillas finished off the last of the zombies and knuckled around to flank him. “So you could say I have a very special dog in this fight.”
Tammy groaned, rubbing her face with her palms. “Ugh! Does everything revolve around that crazy old bat these days?”
Loki chuckled. “Sometimes it feels like it doesn’t it?” He rolled his eyes and shrugged. “But no. Maeve isn’t even the worst thing threatening your world. The Adversarial Force, Signun of the White, What you know as the Yellow World—and that’s just the sentient planetary threats. Shall I go on?”
“Later. Because that information sounds incredibly important,” Tink said, “But if the zombies were here, then they’re going to be attacking everyone else too.”
Staring straight ahead as if she were blind, La Dama seemed to be coming to her senses. “My men are out there. They aren’t equipped for this.”
“You military’s finest isn’t equipped for something like a human that’s slower, far less intelligent, and actively rotting?” Loki asked, giving her a level look. “There’s a very good reason zombie media starts en media res, you know, and that’s because a geriatric with a sturdy umbrella could end the threat ten minutes in.” He paused in thought before continuing. “Of course then there’s the sprinters, but really at that point, you’re just dealing with humans minus self control an intellect—and still easier to kill than normal, already easy to kill humans.”
Again he shrugged. “In any even, all that ends now. I tire of this amateurish attempt at a test. Think I’ll reject this reality and substitute my own.”
“Wait.” Tammy paused. “What do you mean, ‘test’?”
Loki squawked out a laugh far less dignified than before. “You haven’t noticed? How the Guardian of the Calendar sent you off so you just happened to encounter the Colombian leadership and the servants of the Jotun Queen happened to find the Mara Sangua? How just after the Guardian showed disgust of your code against killing, you ended up confronting a hero on a broken pedestal who doesn’t hold to that code?
“This is all a test to see if, despite your lack of killing edge, you’re worthy of receiving the Calendar.” He smirked. “But it’s a pathetically thought out and frankly boring one. Lets see if I can liven it up a bit…” He raised his hands and green arcs of lightning crackled between them and the horns on his helm. A ball of pulsating plasma formed between those horns and after a moment’s build up, sent a column of power into the sky.
“What are you doing?” Tink demanded.
Loki started up at the rising green tower of power. “This all began with a flash of green light. Let’s begin the final phase with another.”
As if waiting for his cue, the column rapidly expanded at the speed of light, propagating over the Earth.
Following the second Green Flash Event, more brilliant phenomena would be reported in the sky in locations both exotic and local. Balls of scintillating energy touched down From India to Antarctica, Ireland to Louisiana and beyond.
Before anyone could so much as grab a palmtop to film it, nearly every communication device began to broadcast images of heroes and villains both known and unknown alongside Loki voice.
“People of the Blue World! The fate of your planet, of your very destiny lies in the balance! Good and evil, the spectrum between, from ever corner of your world, I’ve gathered them to show their worth in battle for a grand prize that could sway the very path of the future!”
Warrick groaned as he sat up. He scrambled to his feet when he realized that for the second time that day, he was finding himself in an unfamiliar place and alone. As his disorientation faded, he found himself looking out from a ruined parapet out over a wide, green field to one side and a tangled forest on the other.
“You!” an all-too familiar voice caught his attention and he looked up to the top of a crumbling tower to find a familiar figure. “Where are we? What did you do?!” demanded Zoe McNamara, AKA Stephanie Carol, AKA Vorpal, his estranged (and villainous) cousin.
“Welcome,” Loki continued to the rest of the world, “To the Contest of Champions!”
End Foreign Relations.