---The badge hit the desk so hard that it bounced, leaving a divot and a tiny explosion of sawdust.
The generous jowls of John West, Hero of the Multiverse, quivered minutely at his frown. It was a fine desk.
“I quit.” John Baylor added, unhelpfully.
Once, there was a war for the Omniverse, a hunt for all John Baylors. All conflicts ever written paled before it, perhaps because it will be the summation of all conflict; such uncertainty is warranted because it is also a war waged across time and continuity.
That war is not the current war. That war is won, seeing how John Baylor still flourishes across the universes, and perhaps that victory brought a deserved measure of complacency, as some aspiring multiversal alignment of Germanians was nothing compared to the Bragulan war machine that once ravaged through it. Poor words were spoken, and one John Baylor went rogue to confront the problem before it festered.
---He ran as fast as he could, screaming as loud as he could. He staggered, his leg bleeding badly. As he got up, he turned back and saw his pursuer. At the sight, he screamed and continued running.
It was like some kind of nightmare. Some kind of horrible nightmare. It was horrible, and it was night. The city was usually okay at night, but there was a blackout. How the fuck do blackouts happen in the year 2567? They don’t happen. Then what the hell is a blackout? How the hell did that word pop in his head?
He ran to a door and banged it with his fists. No one answered. Shit.
He pressed his wristwatch, speed-dialing the police. No signal. Shit. Shit.
He screamed for help. No one screamed back. Shit. Shit. Shit.
He looked around and saw an alley. Hopefully it led somewhere. Or he could hide somewhere in it. Or something. Good idea. He ran. He was no longer screaming, instead, he was panting. His heart was about to explode out of his chest.
He stomped on puddles of water, threw aside trash cans to impede his pursuant. Yeah right. He tripped on a pothole, badly bruised his knee, but the adrenalin kept him going on. Blocked the pain. Got rid of the lingering effects of OrGazmo. He lost his boner.
What the fuck was going on?
“Selphie!” he cried desperately. She wasn’t here, she couldn’t hear him. But he didn’t know that.
He screamed again.
He turned around a corner, running into another garbage can and falling face first to the concrete. It hurt. His nose bled. But he crawled on, crawled on and got to his feet. He continued running – but now it was more like a drunken stagger. Another corner. He slammed himself through a plywood wall. A splinter in his arm. He screamed. He ran.
He left the alley, it wasn’t too big. He entered a street. An intersection. Three ways, left, front or right.
Right. He always chose right, being right handed.
He heard the rustling of garbage cans, his pursuer was far off.
He ran right. By the time his pursuer got out of the alley, he would have to guess which way he went. Two out of three says he’d make it out alive.
He continued running. He was silent. Hopefully, he could hide somewhere and wait for morning. He’d be okay. He always ended up okay. He –
There was a sensation he knew all too well. It felt like a bullet. Into his back, through his gut. Blood spurted out, staining the concrete he landed on. Blood started seeping out of his mouth as he rolled on his back. He saw the man.
Didn’t look like much of a villain. Hawaiian polo, undershirt, shorts. A smoking pistol. Didn’t really look like much. But he was on the floor and he was dying.
“Bitch,” John sputtered. Hard to talk with blood in your mouth. “Who are you…?”
The man bent down, letting him get a clear view of his face. John’s eyes widened. It was impossible -
“I’m John Baylor,” the man said. “I am nobody’s bitch. You…are mine. I will be the One.”
Before John could say anything, John got up and pointed his gun at his face. John pulled back the hammer and –
There was a gunshot.
Blood exploded out of John’s arm, staining his Hawaiian. He screamed, dropping his gun in the process. He turned to face his assailant. “Who the fuck?! Shit, it’s you!”
Dying John’s vision blurred. But he saw John run away. After him was a big man in black. The man stopped in front of him and pointed his gun at him. Autoshotgun. He said in a monotone:
“Come with me if you want to live.”
John didn’t really have a choice.
Before the Sovereign of the Stars, there was another Sovereign of the Stars. But before that, there was an even older Sovereign of the Stars. It also had a John Baylor - the FIRST John Baylor, the original soldier, the original private eye and Hawaii-shirted schmuck. He had been messing with his other selves long before the war for all universes, and it was not the first time he had been hunted.
Eventually, the ultimate survivor survived the passing of his universe, overwritten by newer iterations of itself. A Baylor without a Sovereignty, adrift in nothing more than a tenuous metapara, he was finally free to change.
He grew older, maybe wiser, and came to the certainty that as long as words were written, there will be another war. Scrolling through a kaleidoscope of infinitudes, he discerned the shape of another threat, one that came like a bloc against all others. The other multiversal heroes were moldering, fading in strength and prominence, but he could rely on his counterparts already embedded in every potential battlefield.
When the John Baylor of Comix! vanquished Mufasa Crimson, foremost in wickedness among the Seven Serpents of Crime, he imitated Darkness' ritual of ascension to rise to the higher level of reality to sever the root of Crimson's power (among other things). However, Baylor wasn't fully aware of the ascension ritual's power to transcend the bounds of universes - the same nature that Ludwig wishes to exploit - and when he reached out far enough, John Baylor Prime reached back.
I don't know how of this the now unmasked Old Man Baylor gets across to Kai and the rest of the bewildered cast, but I suppose the stated fact that he came to oppose Ludwig Schroedinger from the very beginning answers enough of their questions for now. Even though he's now, like, even more sketchy. Maybe Theophil Elbing, a Theozoologist clone, somehow has the knowledge of the weird to corroborate the status quo of multiple universes, or maybe the fading Future Kai demon describes the dire future timeline that would come to pass, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, if Ludwig's plan concludes. I don't know how this squares with his earlier role in the Triple Darkness Arc - maybe the seeds that he had a different perspective was already sown back then, in his private conversation with Kai atop the seconf Tree of Anti-Life that MANGS and Ludwig didn't manage to overhear.
I don't even remember what I originally intended to happen with Comix! John Baylor to support this switcheroo, and whether his whole personality shift into smooth facilitator and manipulator over the last 5 years of the Comix timeline was actually due to being replaced. It *would* be a bit unfair to the eminently worthy Comix version if he had been written out or something, so I'm entirely open to the possibility that he's relaxing on a beach somewhere even as Advent Rey 2 is happening.
Anyway, having your local apocalypse recontextualized as the leading blow in a multiversal struggle for supremacy does add a new urgency to getting a move on. Leaving Dr. Elbing's lab, and after doing something clever with the remaining backup Rey-Darkness clones - maybe Ludwig remotely controls them to attack the cast to remind everyone that he's still an imminent threat, so now superfluous characters like Future Kai can stay back to hold them off - the remaining good guys move to confront Ludwig. But first, they have to get clear of the twisting interior of Castle Neusternberg, to find out what is actually going on.
They didn't need to worry about the endgame being too internalized, though. I don't recall mapping out the subsequent events in much detail, but one thing that was sure was that Ludwig's secret was out for everyone to see. The skies are once again black and twisted, with flashing glimpses of other universes showing through, and every trepidates at the visions of formations of eagle-embossed airships, of hell realms and armored figures, of cosmic horrors and star-spanning empires to whom a single world is nothing. There is some crackling lightning storm focused around the now on-fire spires of Castle Neusternberg atop its artificial mountain, raw potentiality on the verge of twisting into gateways. And standing right on the roof is Ludwig Schroedinger himself, now fully mainlining the original Darkness-balut he implanted into his hand. He has cast aside his old mantles and his names and branded himself Demon Designation: WORLD WARLOCK, the final card of the Major Arcana plus a descriptor of his true nature, now no better than the demons he summoned. He has also taken his shirt off.
Make no mistake - Ludwig's plan has been derailed. His original INFINITE GERMANITY, had it happened without a hitch, would have just overwritten the Comixverse in a snap, and he would have sat back to reap the rewards. But now he has no option but to offer himself as a sacrifice, twisting the ascension ritual to materialize a host of invaders from never-were universes to enact Germanity the hard way. He is now deranged, too wrapped up in the throes of his gotterdammerung to remember his original motivations. But still, with endless unreal forces at his disposal (that definitely doesn't metafictionally represent a certain someone pulling shit out of his ass), his victory is sure.