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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Invictus » Wed May 30, 2012 1:42 pm

It came to more than that.

Chaos seethes beneath the capital city of the Philippines.

The hand of the demon Darkness reaches forth to grasp the dark heart of the country.

Secret forces have tried and failed to stop the advance of his army of three and thousands.

The shadow guardian of the dark heart, former president and old soldier Fidel Ramos, is helpless against the onslaught.

It seems that nothing can stop the final ascension of Darkness over an innocent nation.

But a single plane pulls into Ninoy Aquino International Airport, bearing the final hope against the rising night...

"What did I tell you about doors, Rey?!" Gringo Honasan howled at the departing blur. "What did I tell you about aircraft doors?!" He screamed out of a hole in the side of the taxiing Hercules where the door used to be.

"<Did you at least insert a fresh phone into his costume, Mr. Luiz?>" Deadlight Hollow asked of the assistant with the bandaged nose as they both stood behind the apoplectic senator.

"<Ob course.>" Luiz scoffed. "<Afder what habbened last time.>"

"<Camp Crame is burning. I've lost contact with FVR's close-guard units.>" Honasan snarled. "<Juan Ponce Enrile and his men are too busy persuading the government to let itself be evacuated. Senator Defensor Santiago has locked herself in a room with a gun or something because she's not picking up the phone. The last thing I need is for that idiot to run off before we find our bearings.>"

"<He's well motivated for whatever struggles lie ahead, at least.>" Deadlight Hollow commented, his cloak materializing around him. "<I'll attempt a rendezvous.>"

"<Report if you find him. Keep an ear to the ground. We'll get Rey's people to contact him as well.>" Honasan smiled grimly. "<While I go and secure the former president with whatever forces I have at hand.>" he brought out a creased, yellow piece of paper with a list of telephone numbers on it. "<And this time is as good as any for Python Unit's finest moment.>"

Outside Manila Hotel, near Rizal Park

"I can't say I haven't had enough of wading through paramils for a while."

"It was getting tedious."

"Made me feel like a total badass again though." Chaos zipped up his tracksuit as he jogged. " Like after all those slapfights with Rey Quirino, You know brodegai? Say, he isn't going to turn up out of the blue again, is he?"

"Our employer seems to be betting on it." Edge moved along with him. Pedestrians were running and cars were being abandoned and so on, like something out of a disaster movie. The citizens of Manila were not exactly unused to the ring of gunshots or the sight of police cordons, but the rumours of the headquarters of the Philippines National Police being attacked by an unknown force were rather alarming, the giant serpentine cloud of darkness that swept across the city minutes ago was a bit too much, and the shadow monsters marauding downtown were just way out of line.

They caught sight of a lone police officer who was vainly trying to control the flow of fleeing civilians. He also caught sight of them and his eyes widened in alarm. Edge shot him. Chaos set fire to his car. "Well, he's the one betting on it. He can handle him if he shows up."

Moving on, the reached the wooded expanse at the edge of Rizal Park. Packs of hellhounds prowled within, leaping and snapping at tourists and vacation-goers as though they were clearing the way for something.

Beyond the wooded park was the central square of Rizal Park proper. A tall stone obelisk stood surrounded by manicured grass, its square sides flanked by bronze figures in various solemn poses.
The guardsmen around it didn't seem to know whether to hold their positions or start taking shots at the rampaging monsters.


"Reminds me of a cenotaph."

"Or the same kind of monument of great and grave national significance."

"This isn't going to look good on our resumes, if we kept resumes."

"What we do have is our reputation in the globetrotting mercenary kudos market." Edge said. "And the impact may indeed be negative."

"The kudos for hardcore-ness not being worth the outrage, sort of thing."

"Something like that." Edge said.

"But you know the boss-person." Chaos reminded. "He's the gets pissy if his will is not done, turns people into pillars of salt kind of guy. He wants his extra mojo bad and he's gonna make sure whatever gets in his way gets it. Please tell you have a plan to wriggle out of this, brongming."

"My plan is simple." Edge explained as they watched the increasingly agitated sentries from behind a tree. "Guide our employer into a head-butting contest with the universe and hope the universe wins. Now, do you remember what his last order was?"

Chaos frowned. "It wasn't very clear with all the stuff going on back then. What with the assault on the fortified police bureau with a thousand screeching shadow beasts at our backs, and then with all the fighting through corridor after corridor of pissed-off cops who knew their home ground like the backs of their hands, and then with the boss-person handling extraction by flying us out on a giant cloud of magic, and then with the wild landing on the closest convenient tall building to where the target said the thing was, you know? And I got too used to tuning out the darksplanations, sorry."

"It was actually 'fetch to me the Heart of Darkness which lies buried beneath that grotesque sky-thrusting monument to transient mortal martyrs, while I gloat further at its pathetic guardian'." Edge recited word for word.

"Oh yeah. That old codger looked a bit shifty after we captured him, don't you think?" Chaos recalled.

"Wily as a fox is how I would have put it. A man like that wouldn't be able to hold on to that kind of valuable asset without some cutthroat cunning to call his own, I'd reckon." Edge mused. "Although it wouldn't require cutthroat cunning to deceive our employer, whose grasp of human expression is, shall we say, shaky."

Chaos made a quick glance at the bulk of the Rizal Monument again. "It's not actually buried under there, is it?"

"The guardian was stalling for time. I don't think it'll work for long though, since our employer seems to be able to sense the location of the artifact through a sympathetic magical connection. But this-" Edge opened a channel on his comms, "-should distract him all over again. Hey, boss-person."

"What is it? I have not finished my gloating yet!" The voice erupted from Edge's earpiece like like a swarm of angry locusts. Edge flinched and plucked it out of his ear. The sentries around the monument turned their heads at the noise.

"Chaos." Edge whispered. "Be a good man and do some precision shooting for me. Or at least lead them into the woods so the monsters can take care of them."

"I'll see what I can do, brah." Chaos put on his autoshotgunknuckles and ducked out from behind the tree.

Edge spoke into the comms again. "We have your objective in sight. There's something of an obstacle though..."

"What more mortal obstacles to my final ascension can stand in the way of you mortals themselves?! I strain against the final chain! I am on the verge of exaltation! I am supernal to such concerns! Have I not already provided enough might to pave us the way to ultimate glory? Are you not able to give any more than the skin and bones to line my inevitable procession of triumph?"

Edge tried to ignore the shouts and cracks of gunfire coming from the direction of the monument. "A misapprehension of scale, as it were. Namely, the quotidian logistics of having two completely unequipped mortals dig under a rather...monumental monolith made of brass and stone. Fairly trifling. Perfectly understandable thing to forget about in the heat of your, erm, ascension."

The reply came not from the earpiece, which melted in a screech of static, but from the ear-shattering boom from the top of Manila Hotel, which blew out every single window in the building. Edge turned and saw the glittering blizzard over the treeline, his expression appalled.

I can see your blunderings from my vantage point. The voice of Darkness slithered out of the aether and into Edge's ear, as though the science of telecommunications was a mere lie concocted by old white men. What I see is you fumbling keyless before the gates of eschaton! Your piteous farce dishonours me before the very wretched creature I intend to usurp! Even now, he finds the temerity to show mockery in his unseen eyes! Must you prove your worthlessness again and again? Must I eternally suffer the company of blind gnats before the storm? Must I always strike the iron cube of kalpas with my callused fists unechoed and unheard?

Outside the park, at the edge of the wide roof of the recently de-fenestrated Manila Hotel, Darkness caught his breath.

Smoke boiled from his form, and fire rippled also; the noxious miasma of which rose to smudge the sky. The bodies of policemen lay where they fell, their flesh bubbling and peeling away in the metaphysical acid. His massive shoulders rose and fell, and his trenchcoat billowed like no fabric on Earth should.

"You seem agitated." An old and cracked voice said from beside him.

Darkness glanced sideways. His hostage was there in the wheelchair, an emaciated figure swathed in stained grey blankets. Its face was invisible beneath a makeshift hood. A spotted hand clutched at folds amidst the fabric.

"Show your pathetic visage when you address me, wretch." Darkness hissed.

Slowly, the hand reached up and drew back the cloth, which fell and draped about the figure’s shoulders, to reveal the grimacing face of Fidel Valdez Ramos, still-living ex-president of the Philippines.

It was a face ravaged by more than time, and this close to Darkness' aura its lesions and sores wept openly.

"Yes." An expression approximating a smile emerged from Darkness' mad face. "Why conceal your inadequacies as a keeper of the Heart of Darkness from mortal eyes? It has warped and branded you for your presumption, and now it has rejected you for your weakness! Even now, even after you have thought vainly to hide my ultimate prize away from me, the harsh stench of the locus lingers like smoke upon you. But it is not the smoke that I seek! It is the fire, the burning bush! Once I have grasped the thread that links this plane to the unknowable supreme, I shall scale the highest mountain and unravel Heaven with my own two hands!"

"You have no idea what you will unearth." Ramos warned.

"You, decrepit mortal, are blinder and deafer than I thought!" Darkness retorted smugly. "Have you not hoarded that which rightfully belongs to me for all your mayfly years? Has it not whispered dark truths into your dreams while you slumbered unguarded? Have you not cradled it to your bosom, slowly feeling its miasma rendering your insides to tar and ichor? And have you not borne this as you would an unpleasant duty, out of some pathetic, misbegotten, mortal cause? Your resolve rots and totters like your body! Your death hung over you like a spectre and caused you to betray your people to ultimate damnation! Yes. My ultimate damnation. What you fear is what I relish! What you reject as corruption I embrace as ambrosia! All that you have striven to protect will be undone in an instant! The Heart should have shown you this much."

"All it has shown me are scenes from a nightmare." Ramos whispered. "It is a nightmare that already seizes my people in a fitful sleep, unsure if they are dreaming or awake. But it is the nature of men to prefer truth to lies, and they will not succumb as easily as you think. You are a figure who stepped out of their nightmares, demon. You should not have come here."

Darkness unclasped one hand from behind his back and gestured, sweeping across the city arrayed before them. A fresh wave of black dots materialized, tiny monstrous shapes springing into being to harry the people who still remained in the tableau below. "Pathetic mortal fool! This is the dream and the nightmare, and I am the waking and the revelation! You only cling to your delusional world because I have yet to tear the veil from your eyes! But it will happen soon enough. Once I have the Heart of Darkness in my true possession, I shall ride it and command its power as you never did! With my hand ascendant over the fate of your nation, all mortals shall have no choice but to abase themselves before the new truth! A truth they will not require eyes to see and will not require ears to hear as it sweeps through their very souls and shrives it from their bodies!"

"...That is not what the Heart has told me." Ramos said quietly.

Darkness was silent for a second. Then he turned slowly, as though through liquid glass, and the world itself cracked with the motion and collapsed into an endless, dancing field of flame.

"You have the temerity to speak the wishes of the Heart of Darkness, the very locus of all corruption? Against I, its perfect heir apparent?" As Ramos stiffened imperceptibly under his blankets, Darkness took one step closer to him, then two, everything trembling under each beat. "You are nothing but an impotent caretaker, destined to squander whatever mortal ambitions you had to a promise of power you dared not and could not claim. It was your futile solace to wither away into nothing before you could witness my coming, but see where you are now! To see me devour your surrogate soul! Already, the foul magic of the Heart has bolstered my strength and shook me free of the need to defeat your so-called national hero! Even now, it beats with my own heartbeat! Even now, it sings to me the song of our inevitable reunion! A song that only I am fit to hear!"

"And you come here and tell me this. You, who have fixated on my country as some promised land." Ramos said. "You are mad."

"Yes. Perhaps it is within your limits to name me mad." Darkness bent low to look Ramos in the eye, his hideous face cloaked in shadow except for his teeth, which gleamed white; and his left eye, which shone like a star. "Of course. You are but a pathetic mortal who cannot see beyond your dreams, a common victim of the human flaw! Humans are nothing without their dreams! Like mindless beasts, you cannot help but rage against the dying of the light! You cannot grasp the notion that neither your rage nor your dreams can save you! You think you can turn back the coming night with your tantrums alone! I shall make one last argument to convince you that your kind is destined to be no more than suffering chattel!"

Darkness' aura erupted upwards, a blasphemous tower reaching to the heavens. The shock drove back Ramos' wheelchair until it was inches away from the edge of the roof.

"I wrest open the gates to the arboreal realm!" Darkness called, his voice thundering as though from all quarters. "I thrust a brand into the embers of eons of enmity!" His hand cradled a ball of black fire, which he hurled into the sky.

The fireball flew until it reached the sky above the centre of Rizal Park, where it hung like a miniature, baleful sun.

"I wake you from the indolence of ages! I rewrite your final fate! I bind you with the signs of N'Gai! I call you to kneel before my throne of absolutes! Come and fulfil the most worthy task you will ever perform! Come!" Darkness incanted.

The hovering fireball exploded into a constellation of drifting sparks, which then began to coalesce into a shape.


The sparks crackled as they congregated, and a writhing outline began to form. Mammoth wings beat. A spiked tail thrashed.


Scale after scale rippled into existence, each sharp as a blade, large as a shield. Four taloned legs curled and uncurled, veins flush with rage. An exhalation from a glowing maw shrieked like a jet engine.


Firewing the Destructor roared into life above the Rizal Monument.

"I guess that's our prayers answered." Edge remarked to himself as the sheer physical power of the roar rattled the tree he was cowering behind and shook leaves into his head. "Let's get out of here, man!" He shouted at Chaos, who didn't need the hint to start hightailing it in his direction.

"What the hell kind of help did you ask for from the boss-person, bro?" Chaos shrieked. "Giant dragons ain't covered by my life insurance!"

"An awfully huge distraction, that's what!" Edge shouted. "Get to the bikes! We'll take them as far as we can, then we'll ditch them and lay low in the city! When the giant monster digs under that thing for us doesn't finds the treasure chest, we don't want to be anywhere near the scene!"

They ran back through the wooded park, risking a quick detour back to Manila Hotel to fetch their transport.

"Wouldn't...the boss-person notice?" Chaos gasped.

"Judging by the comm delays and the pyrotechnics up there, I'd reckon he's a bit distracted. Possibly by the hostage, even. Smart guy."

Heat and light exploded behind them as Firewing bathed the Monument in flame. Even from their distance, they heard the exploding crack of superheated stone.

After dodging the shadow monsters again, crossing a considerably emptier street and hopping over several fences, Chaos and Edge got to the car park outside Manila Hotel. They slowed down and approached their rides carefully, and Edge looked around; the sky behind them was a rising inferno, but no signs of supernatural retribution were forthcoming from the roof of the Hotel itself.

"Right, wake the things up and we'll be off." Edge said more quietly, brushing broken glass off the frame. "Last job our employer wants us to do and he pulls a dragon into existence to do it instead. That just breaks the camel's back, it does."

"I'm definitely giving him two stars out of five." Chaos agreed as he stuck the keys into his bike and it completely failed to bite his hand off. He straddled the not-leather seat eagerly.

"Poor people skills, badly considered employment terms, severe eschatological tendencies impeding long-term working relationships. Fuck stars, I'm going to bot him up some reviews."

High above, Darkness was too busy cackling to notice the two dots speeding off. "See?" He shouted at Ramos. "You had not the slightest conception of what your treasure can accomplish in my hands! Even the last lord of the dragons, a creature of ancient and masterless pedigree, is at my beck and call! Now watch, as meaningless stone crumbles under immortal claw! Watch as petty remembrances give way for immortal glory! I shall strike a blow that existence will never forget, and you shall bear witness to it! Wait. No." Darkness suddenly added. "Every one of your pathetic people shall bear witness to it!" He raised his hands and webs of black sorcery spun through the air.

To be continued...
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

Coming NEVER

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Wed May 30, 2012 4:05 pm

"What is it? I have not finished my gloating yet!"

:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ.

"Sometimes Shroomy I wonder if your imagination actually counts as some sort of war crime." - FROD

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Ford Prefect » Thu May 31, 2012 3:57 am

>>Firewing as Bahumut


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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Czernobog » Sun Jun 03, 2012 1:10 pm

God this is hilarious. All the dumb stuff I wrote back then...
You have ruled this galaxy for ten thousand years.
You have little of account to show for your efforts.
Order. Unity. Obedience.
We taught the galaxy these things.

And we shall do so again.

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Invictus » Sun Jun 03, 2012 2:28 pm

Metro Manila

Is that his carabao? That goes tuk tuk tuk! That is a badly maintained jeepney! That is not his carabao!

Is that his carabao? That goes <Where the hell can I find an ATM that works around here>! That is an elderly American tourist! That is not his carabao!

Is that his carabao? That goes dude look at that hick argh not the nuts argh not the shotgun! That is a gang of bayots looking for trouble! That is not his carabao!

Where's his carabao?

Juan Pedro, otherwise known as Bolo back in Cebu, was looking for his missing carabao. It was totally beyond the pale. He knew he had many enemies, especially all those landowners he hadn't killed or scared off from his nipa hut, but now of them had dared touch his carabao. Until now.

It was a trap. Only then would they have gone to so much trouble to steal his carabao. Two men had died trying to cut the wires of his remote alarm system – one blackmailed fisherman to a punji pit and one out-of-towner to a particularly ingenious swinging log device. Both were young and inexperienced at dealing with Bolo.

Not that a lot of people met Bolo and lived long enough to gain any experience of dealing with him.

But the rest had gotten through. His beehives had been duly tripped, but they had been well-prepared with smoke and smeared herbal mud, traces of which he had found later. They didn't know he had put poison barbs in the palisade though, so more men would still be in hospital now trying to unlock the gate from the other side. They had wisely avoided the gully and the fake bridge across it, choosing instead choosing to sneak through the bushes he had strung barbed wire through, somehow avoiding setting off the homemade claymore. Only then did they get close enough to his hut to find that he wasn't home. Lucky for them.

So they just went up and broke the door of his barn and wrangled his carabao out through the driveway, probably costing them a few more broken bones in the process. Then they left the requisite note outside his hut, but got too enthusiastic and also set fire to his hut after leaving the note there. This burnt up most of the note, but Bolo got enough of an idea of where they went by the tracks the thugs left behind. And although he kept all his important stuff in caches buried underground anyway, burning down his hut and kidnapping his carabao definitely counted as messing with Bolo, and nobody messed with Bolo. So he dug up some guns and went after the trail, which led into the trap.

Bolo always thought the best way to disarm a trap was to walk into it. With guns.

Long story short, he shot them and shot them some more, and when he ran out of bullets his machete came in handy, and kicking someone in the face while his pants were on fire didn't work too badly either, although he had to steal the guy's pants afterwards. He had left enough of them alive for some questions in lieu of further beatings, and they had coughed up the name of the landlord responsible. After going back for more guns and ammo, he blasted his way into the conniving rich guy's villa which was another trap, which pissed Bolo off because two traps in a row was one of those things that put a serious crimp in his monthly budgeting.

After more firefights, more jumping off staircases to kick people in the face and more improvising deadly weaponry out of nobby landowner household items, he not only managed to sort the whole thing out by leaving the nefarious landlord impaled on his own elephant penis walking stick, but also by leaving him alive long enough to gasp out what actually happened to Bolo's carabao – outside interests had been involved, dirty hands had been shaken, and apparently the carabao was a very rare breed.

And so Bolo had to go to Manila to track down an outlaw bull semen trader.

He was feeling extra vindictive, so instead of going back to his burnt-down hut to unearth some extra cash, he went through the now-dead rich guy's wallet for the price of a plane ticket. A policeman he helped out years ago who had by now worked himself to fairly high up in airport security made sure that his guns and knives got through the security checkpoints, and Bolo flew economy class for the first time. To the big city.

And here he was wandering the big city streets, a duffel bag of weaponry slung over one broad shoulder, looking for more clues. Where's his carabao?

Is that his carabao? It makes no sound, but it tears through his soul like a thousand nails across a chalkboard! That is a massive wave of black magic coming from somewhere! That is not his carabao!

Is that his carabao? It goes nooooooooo! That is a mass of fleeing pedestrians! That is not his carabao!

Maybe he could even get Rey Quirino to help. Sure, the last time he showed his face in Cebu he also revealed himself to be a short, wimpy bayot, but he came through against that giant pygmy monster in the end, didn't he? Maybe he still remembered him. Maybe he would help out since Manila was his turf and comb the city with super-speed or something. Bolo couldn't help but think how much more convenient life would be if he had those super-powers. But nah, it's better to leave that fancy stuff for the city slickers. Guns and knives were good enough for honest country folk like him.

Is that his carabao? It goes vrrrooooar! That is some kind of cyborg demon dog monster prowling the streets of a civilized city! That is not his carabao!

Is that his carabao? Is goes thump-thump-thump-put. That is a half-deflated soccer ball! That is not his carabao!

Bolo stopped dead, tracing with cold eyes the direction it had been thrown from as the monster pounced on it and tore it apart in a dog-like frenzy. The thrower was definitely not his carabao.

It was an American, big even by American standards. Both his hair and skin were dyed bright and unnatural colours, a custom he was not aware that Americans had. But that was not as eye-catching as the expression of childlike glee on his face, nor the fact that he was playing catch with a monster that was clearly terrorizing the town.

Bolo had a simple way of telling who was a good man and who wasn't. People who messed with Bolo while he was minding his own business were not good men. Criminals who messed with the poor were not good men. Killer spirits like Duwendes were not men at all, and definitely not good. Americans weren't always bad men, but Americans who palled around with demons were.

"Excuse me." He said, unslinging his duffel bag from his shoulder.

"<Naw wait brah, I'm kinda busy.>" The American said, holding up a hand while aiming his phone camera at the monster that was worrying the torn remnants of the ball.

"Where did you find that ball?" Bolo demanded.

"<I don't know what you're jabbering on about, brostradamus.>" The American replied, checking his phone with an irritated glance. "<But check this out. Heel!>" The hellhound sat down eagerly, exhaust smoke whistling from its nostrils. "<Awesome, huh?>"

"So you admit you're the one behind all this, American?" Bolo growled, surreptitiously lowering a hand.

"<Look, I don't like the tone of your voice, broland, but this is a free country...well okay, this country has inherited the best traditions of a great and free country – by which I mean America – and back in America a man can choose to kill time whatever way he likes while he's waiting for his best bro to return his call.>" The American jabbed a gloved finger at Bolo. "<So piss off and run back to whatever hick village you're from, 'right?>"

"I don't understand your words, American. I also don't know if you stole my carabao. But you toy with monsters and disrespect the games of children. That's all I need to know." With startling speed, Bolo pulled out his Colt .45 and blasted the hellhound in the eye socket. The rebounding bullet went through whatever vile analogue the creature had for a brain half a dozen times; it jerked, slumped and disintegrated into a cloud of smog.

"<Hey->" The American began, only to flip backwards as Bolo's next shot struck his chest. He hit the ground heavily and gracelessly, the golf bag he was carrying landing beside him with a thump.

"You're worth less than that soccer ball." Bolo snapped and stuck his Colt .45 back into his trousers.

Something was wrong with the city. Now Bolo didn't have much experience with cities, and he must have thought that the undercurrent of panic he felt was just the usual energy of city people. It felt bigger than the one monster and its mastermind that he'd just dealt with, and it was probably connected to that pulse of black magic he felt earlier. There may be other monsters and other meddling Americans playing in the streets. At this rate, he'll never find his carabao...

He heard a clattering noise against the street and looked down, just in time to see a die bounce off his shoe and roll to a stop. It was a six.

Then it exploded.

The die was a flashbang! Bolo reeled blindly and yanked out his Colt with one hand while pulling a sawn-off shotgun from his bag with the other hand by reflex. Dastardly Americans! Was there no end to the children's games they perverted?

"<Ow.>" He heard the American's voice say through the dull, echoing roar in his ears. "<That fuckin' hurt.>" Then there were more vague sounds, like he was slowly getting back up.

His vision was returning. Bolo ran and tacked a street corner, putting his back against the wall. What the hell was going on here?

"<That was my last tracksuit, you fuck.>" He heard the American's voice from around the corner, and the sound of a zipper. "<But thank god I wore this underneath. I know I'm the luckiest motherfucker to walk the planet, but when I know I'm going up against coupla hundred angry cops, I'd rather be prepared and lucky.>" There were more sounds of fabric being tied and belts being fastened. "<As for you, bromas becket, this is your very unlucky day.>"

Bolo's sixth sense told him to throw himself sideways, which he did just before another clattering die-grenade spun around the corner and peppered his previous spot with micro-flechettes, a hundred tiny holes popping into existence in the plaster wall. Bolo rolled to his knees and opened fire with his Colt, blasting gouges out of the corner that he thought his opponent had rounded. But instead the entire corner erupted towards him as four turbo-penetrator rounds did what they did best, narrowing missing Bolo and inundating him in shattered plaster.

"<Like I was saying brahphael, shit like this is way more fun in the Philippines. For me. I can shoot off all this mail-order catalogue shit I've always wanted to try out and nobody cares!>" The apparition that now slowly rounded the corner said. It had stripped off its tracksuit jacket and tied it to its waist, but instead of flesh it was all blue rubbery muscle underneath, wrapped in some kind of greyish transparent plastic. The muscles flexed unnaturally and hissed audibly as he moved. The American's arms were also wrapped in...well, Bolo knew guns and they were definitely guns. Very fancy guns.

The American grinned smugly and pointed an armful of barrels at him. "<Heard of something called a Light Blue Suit?>"

Bolo pointed two barrels at the American's unprotected head. "No."

The American realized and dodged a split second before Bolo emptied both barrels into his face, stray shot gouging new lines in his spiked hairdo. He fired too, another four rocket-assisted rounds glancing off the pavement between Bolo's legs and demolishing a minivan parked behind him.

There wasn't time to reload the shotgun. Bolo shoved it back into his bag as he backpedalled, laying a trail of spent casings from his Colt. The American shielded his head with one arm and brought his other armful of barrels to bear; but Bolo had created enough distance and was moving purposefully now, slipping between parked cars and mopeds and abandoned hot food stalls, so the programmed spread of micro-pyro rounds spent its fury on nothing but a wide swathe of other people's property, which exploded as their antiquated stores of fossil fuel caught.

Bolo threw himself out of the way of blossoming barrage of secondary explosions, somewhat singed but unfazed. The American was a madman. This was a city. It wasn't like a trap where everything could be safely shot at and/or exploded. And madmen demanded an no-nonsense response.

Crouching in the temporary cover of the roaring firestorm, he reached into his bag and pulled out a MAC-10.

"<Jesus! They still use this much gas around here?>" Bolo heard the meaningless bravado of the American and espied his bulky silhouette picking its way through the field of flames, fingers dialling some kind of console on his arm-guns. "<Now where did the slippery hick fuck go?>"

Bolo informed him by leaning from behind a burning trolley and opening fire. He snapped short bursts, going for centre mass with the terrible visibility; bullets tore brief holes in the flames and stitched across the American's body, which shook under the direct hits. The American grimaced and fired back, a single finned round that went straight through Bolo's cover and tore a neat exit hole in the bodywork an inch from his head, burying itself in the building on the opposite side of the street. Its narrow jet of burning propellant had scorched his long hair. Bolo took the hint and got back on the move.

Damn the American's muscle suit, he thought as he scrambled for the cooler reaches of the street, reloading his submachine gun as he did so. If a .45 round wasn't going to do anything more than knock him over, 9mm rounds weren't going to do anything to him at all. A headshot would put him down, but he doubted that it would be easy. He had to drag this out, keep making more chances for himself.

Bolo picked a random direction and went on the retreat, dodging in and out of open-air corner stores, wooden signs advertising for electronics recyclers and temporary stands full of counterfeit DVDs. The American advanced like a juggernaut, pausing only to take cover when he got shot at and take large chunks out of the crowded streets with his return fire, filling the air with the hiss and whiz of shrapnel.

The American was fit and his artificial muscles probably helped propel his movements, but Bolo had honed his agility by racing with fleet-footed deer in the mountains of Cebu and wasn't about to lose this particular contest. He focused on traversing the unfamiliar urban landscape, hurdling over garbage cans as though they were large rocks and slipping through the lean-tos that spilled onto the pavements as thought they were foliage. But his prey was like a gunship full of napalm; Bolo simply couldn't create enough distance to double back and get the drop on the American.

The streets were also getting thick with people again, and it was getting difficult for Bolo to make headway. Instead of barricading themselves indoors as sensible folk might, they seemed to be milling around nervously, watching out for whatever it was that had them all stirred up. Were there more of those monsters about?

But he could worry about this after he got the American off his heels. Even the sight of a guy like him running around with guns wasn't enough to get them out of the way fast enough, which was definitely not normal city folk behavior. A proper gunfight in this place would take many innocent lives, either by his hand or the American's, and this was something Bolo couldn't abide in his pursuit for justice. He had to settle this soon, and then find his carabao before the whole city broke down into chaos.

Screams drew his attention. A hellhound had dived into the crowd out of nowhere, heart-engine vibrating in its ribs and steel claws scraping into into the the concrete. Rich and poor alike screamed and ran as it lunged this way and that, jaws snapping and hissing, seemingly more intent on scaring than mauling. There wasn't time to wonder why though as Bolo promptly ventilated the monster with his .45. Bullets careened off its metal skeleton and engine block-like innards, but found their way into joints and weak spots; the thing screeched in agony. Still, there was enough fight left in the thing to charge Bolo with its broken-down stride until he put a bullet into each of its eye sockets.

"Run!" He shouted at the stunned populace. "Get somewhere safe!" He wasn't sure if the message got through with his thick Cebuano, but waving a smoking gun around after a spectacularly loud series of shootings probably did. The bystanders scattered just in time for Bolo to turn and meet the heavy footsteps.

"<If I wasn't flat out of depleted uranium buckshot, this would have been over ages ago.>" The American pronounced in his alien tongue. He examined his surroundings with diffidence, his suit magnifying the rise and fall of his heaving chest. "<A high street showdown eh? Suits me fine.>"

Bolo ejected the spent magazine of his Colt and scrabbled for a fresh one in his bag; he found none. There still wasn't time to load his shotgun. That left his MAC-10. He drew it.

Chaos raised both arms and fired.

Tiny buzzing things speeded out of his barrels, swooping for Bolo like angry insects.

"<Didja think I was gonna make this quick, brommel?> The American gloated. "<These things are gonna kill you slow and I'm gonna take down every minute of it on my cams!>"

Bolo leapt back from the noisy pack of wasp-rounds, his gun barking in reply. Let's see how well stupid insect bullets do when they go up against real bullets.

He found out that real bullets didn't do very well against them since it was kind of difficult to hit flying bullet-sized targets with bullets.

Bolo's wild spray clipped only a couple of wasps that tumbled and fell, their tiny wings crippled. The rest of them only wobbled slightly, temporarily distracted by the fast-moving bullets that passed between them harmlessly. Then they resumed their plunging course towards him, appendages glittering with tiny blades and drills. As if to add insult to injury, Chaos chortled and fired another volley of the things at him, which joined their fellows in one big swarm.

He turned and ran, pursued by the swarm, and threw himself into the closest building, slamming the thin metal door shut behind him. The whole building trembled at the rattling shock of his intrusion.

The smell of butchery assailed his senses.

That was because he was in a cavernous wet market, thankfully deserted. The roof and walls were patched-together corrugated metal, dimly illuminated by flickering neon lamps. Whole pigs hung in various stages of dismemberment. Fish lay quiescent in rows of styrofoam boxes. Stacks of fruit balanced precariously on crates and improvised racks.

Bolo realized that the door behind him hadn't stopped rattling. In fact, it was starting to shake visibly. Tiny dents were erupting on its surface like a plague of boils.

He broke open his double-barrelled shotgun and popped in fresh rounds.

The first wasp-round to bore through the door was turned to flying scrap by buckshot. The next half a dozen to emerge from tiny holes drilled through the flimsy metal were also turned to flying scrap by buckshot. Then the other half a dozen wasps crawled through the holes made by their predecessors as Bolo ran out of buckshot. In the dim light, he could see their tiny optic arrays flicking towards him, glowing red with malice.

He snatched up the first thing that came to hand – a fish of substantial size – and threw it into the path of the oncoming wasps. The unlucky grouper exploded in mid-air as the swarm powered through it at high speed, not only undeterred but also showing themselves to be extremely discerning for living flesh over perishing seafood.

The situation was dire, Bolo had to admit. Dire enough for him to resort to his ace in the hole.

Bolo grabbed the only hand grenade he'd packed from his duffel bag. He pulled the pin and held on to it even as the fuse ran down, using the few remaining seconds to dash deeper into the market, the swarm closing the distance on him.

He sprinted for as long as he dared, then in one motion turned, slung the hot grenade at the wasps, turned again and dived to the floor as a good chunk of the world detonated behind him.

Bolo was stunned and deafened, covered in pulverised fish and macerated pork. He got up groaning with scrapes and concussions, but he felt remarkably fine for someone who just had a grenade blow up so close behind him. Somehow, all the foodstuffs laying about must have absorbed the shrapnel for him. The damn bullet wasps better had absorbed some of it too.

He felt rather than heard a feeble buzz on one arm. A broken, damaged wasp was crawling drunkenly on it, leaving tiny wells of blood on his skin. He brushed it off and stepped on it until it stopped moving.

"That's it for the stupid bugs." Bolo muttered to himself. "But there's an American that still needs stomping."

On cue, there was a loud clang of metal from the direction of the entrance, as though what was left of a door had been kicked off its hinges. Then heavy footsteps.

Bolo realized that he'd lost track of his bag of guns.

Fortunately for him, his quarry didn't know that they were in the Filipino equivalent of a Wal-Mart.

"<Come out brothello. I wanna shoot you before I run out of ammo!>" The American called out as he strolled around like he owned the place. The lights were dim, nothing about the environment was familiar to his senses and even Bolo could tell that he was running long on bravado, which was why he almost succeeded in sneaking up behind him and splitting his skull like a coconut.

But he turned and raised an arm just at the wrong moment, and Bolo's meat cleaver got him in the shoulder instead. He felt only the slightest amount of give before his improvised weapon bounced so hard off the American's muscle suit that it flew out of his hand and thudded point-first into a nearby chopping board, quivering.

The American took a second to flex smugly, then drew back a fist to punch him.

Bolo hit him in the face with a pineapple.

Howling in pain, the American grabbed the closest thing at hand and swung it at him. Crispy pig skin shattered against Bolo's nose, like fine china.

Bolo merely growled and raised his pineapple to guard. The American brought his lechon-on-a-spit around again and again, but couldn't get past Bolo's leathery forearms and even tougher tropical fruit. Fragments of roasted hide flew and rebounded around the combatants.

Then the American shifted his grip on the lechon, taking one end of the spit in each hand, and charged. His cybernetic strength bore Bolo backwards until they crashed into a seafood stall. Plastic trays were overturned as Bolo fell backwards on them, spilling dead piscines and water. Beneath his feet, a pineapple rolled away unnoticed.

Bolo gritted his teeth and strained as the American tried to force the pig side-first under his chin, slowly throttling him. He brought his hand up and slapped the American's face with a fish once, twice, but to no effect. His other hand scrabbled over the slimy produce of the stall, searching for a weapon.

The American redoubled the pressure on Bolo's neck, fake muscles bulging visibly, and Bolo's vision was narrowing to a black tunnel with his adversary's ghoulish expression at the end of it. He didn't want to die staring at something like that. And he wasn't going to.

Bolo's other arm sprang up like a trap, hurling a plateful of soaking clams into the American's face.

Clams grew in sandy seabeds. Everybody knew that before you could eat them, you had to soak them in clean water to let them work all the sand and grit out of their systems. Markets were full of these clams in trays of sedimented water, if you knew where to find them.

The American's hands went to his eyes instantly as dirty water and gritty clam-poop got into them. Bolo took the chance to heave the lechon off himself and plant a solid kick in the American's abdomen. It felt like kicking a bull crocodile, but it succeeded in driving his opponent back a couple of steps, which was enough for him to roll clear.

Little did he know that an American's instinctive reaction to having his vision impaired was to fire off all his guns blindly. In all directions.

Bolo kept himself rolling across the stall, small fish and shrimp sticking to his soaked shirt, as rack after rack collapsed in deadly detonations of splinters and pulverized produce. He spun off the end of the lane, landed on his elbow, and didn't pause to survey the devastation as screaming turbo-penetrators ripped through row after row of stalls, cleaving melons in twain and scattering clouds of dried chillis into the air.

A burst of micro-pyro rounds went wide and sailed over the narrow lanes of the market to fall and detonate among its spaces. Wooden racks burned and plastic sheeting melted into smoke. The smell of pigs being cooked in their charring skins, mixed with the stench of burning plastic, threatened to turn Bolo's stomach. But what was even worse was the sound of popping that erupted over the crackle of the fires, of whole fruit exploding as the water inside them turned into steam. It was a hell where death was the only escape. It was a hell of mankind's making.

Crouching behind one of the bits of the wet market that wasn't shot to pieces or on fire, Bolo tore off his ragged, wet shirt and tied it to his face. Let's see who was better at living through hell – a pampered first worlder or a Pinoy.

Eventually, the shooting stopped, leaving only the crackle of flames and the swearing of the American as his arm-barrels clicked impotently. He must have finally used up all his ammo.

Bolo rose like a spectre amid the smoke.

The American caught sight of him and stopped swearing, his expression becoming one of terrible anticipation. They faced each other across the burning expanse.

"This will be your end." Bolo said, the words half-caught in his raw throat and muffled by cloth.

Still, something of the message seemed to have gotten through to the American. "<Sure. Let's roll, brophelia.>"

Bolo let the American throw the first punch, sweeping over his fist and catching his arm under his left armpit. He leaned backwards to keep the lunging American off balance while he braced his other hand against the inside of the American's outthrust arm to bend it backwards.

The American's elbow joint held, cushioned by his suit of muscles. Nevertheless he fell, but not before driving a hooking punch into Bolo's kidney. Bolo gasped, and had to loosen his grip to let his body move backwards and lessen the blow. His foot lashed out, clipping the American in the chin.

The American rolled with the kick as best he could in the cramped confines, his muscle suit smashing through smoking produce. He came up and rushed Bolo again, seizing him around the neck and shoulders and driving him through a stall with an explosion of dried shrimp. Then he lifted Bolo bodily and slammed him down on the nearest surface – a bed of seaweed for sale, which gladly absorbed the impact.

Bolo used the reprieve to hook his legs around one of the American's and twist his body sideways as hard as he could, bringing the American to the ground again. He then threw himself on top of his supine opponent, gouging at face and eyes with his hands. The American however didn't let him get a single gouge in before seizing his wrists in a grip of steel.

There was a brief stalemate as both men struggled, but the American pulled sideways and suddenly he was the one on top. He grinned nastily, just in time for the falling neon lamp to land on his back.

The impact drove the air out of both of them, but Bolo recovered first, pushing the American's body aside and scrambling to his feet amid hot, broken glass. Wrestling on the floor didn't seem like a good idea any more when the building was starting to come down on top of them.

He heard a distant explosion, but there was no accompanying flash of heat and light. Instead, was that the sound of thumping hooves? Was that a throaty bellow?

The American was still on one knee, coughing in the thickening smoke, but he got up quickly enough to meet Bolo's desperate, renewed assault. He shielded his face from the sting of thrown lychees. He caught a thrusting mop and snapped it in half, then duelled briefly against Bolo with the broken halves. He shrugged off debris that rained from the ceiling with damnable pugnacity.

One step, the American took. Two steps. Three. A tired Bolo could force him back no further.

It was nevertheless enough for him to be caught by the headlong charge of Bolo's carabao, which catapulted him into the air like a ragdoll. The last Bolo saw of the American before the smoke swallowed him was a figure flying over a half-collapsed stall.

Is that his carabao? It goes snort moo stamp stamp! Yes! It's his carabao! What a wonderful day! He's found his carabao!

A triumphant Bolo mounted it, trying to ignore the...tubes and apparatus still attached to its hindquarters. He rubbed its neck affectionately, smearing its coat with plaster, blood, mashed fish and pulped fruit.

"Let's get out of here."

Bolo rode his carabao out of the burning, collapsing wet market.

To be continued...
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

Coming NEVER

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Shroom Man 777
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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Sun Jun 03, 2012 4:55 pm


This is an awesome akshun sequence, Vic. Tacticool, Hong Kong slapstick Jackie Chan stuff, hilarious and just plain badass.

"Sometimes Shroomy I wonder if your imagination actually counts as some sort of war crime." - FROD

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Ford Prefect » Tue Jun 05, 2012 2:04 pm

It strikes me as particularly amusing that something as mundane as fighting a random hobo with a crispy pig is probably the strangest part of Chaos' trip to the Philippines.

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Invictus » Fri Jun 22, 2012 5:16 pm

Meanwhile in Metro Manila

It was an awful day, the boys commiserated. As they ran huffing and panting through the twisting alleys of their neighbourhood, they held impromptu council and established the various reasons why this was the case.

One, the totally sweet soccer spot Joker had found a few days ago turned out not to be a abandoned construction site after all. When the whole gang got together and got to the place earlier today, it was filled with workers and bulldozers and all kinds of construction stuff, despite Joker swearing up and down and by all his dead grandmothers that none of it was there yesterday. So they had all got together and ventured out of the slums for nothing. Joker was roundly chastised in a manner appropriate.

Two, the cops were everywhere. Not the really everywhere kind of everywhere which was impossible anyway if you thought about it, which some of the kids sometimes did, but the nastily feasible kind of everywhere where they tried to be everywhere and just ended up in lots of places where you didn't expect them to be. Sure the cops weren't turning over the whole city just to catch a mischievous child gang, but they were too spooked to play nice anyway and having to get past so many of them behaving like that was just a huge hassle.

Three, there were monsters in the city. Nino saw one as he scouted ahead for an alley that didn't have cops in it. It was some kind of insect owl thing that was scuttling sideways on the wall, and Nino had ducked back behind the corner before it saw him. This eyewitness account was hotly disputed by the rest of the boys, since the monster they saw, the one that suddenly blocked off the light at the entrance of the alley where they were waiting for Nino to come back, was a hunchback giant with no face. They eventually agreed as they fled that there was more than one monster in the city, especially after they broke out into a main street and saw the crowds running from something that looked like a giant dog made of motorcycles.

Four, some crazy American ran up and made off with their soccer ball while they were all busy gawking at the monster action. He looked so big and scary that when they noticed, they didn't even consider raising trouble over it. Needless to say this sucked, since it was a proper soccer ball, bought from an actual sports store, with black patches and everything. They had to save up for it. It cost more than a week's worth of cough syrup for all of them.

At least they were originally going out to play proper soccer so they all wore their sneakers for the occasion. This helped with the running.

But it was more than an awful day, Bonifacio, the smart one, gasped. It was trouble. And it wasn't just them in trouble. The whole city was in trouble by the looks of it, and they ought to do something about it.

Why, Joker had asked, couldn't they let the adults deal with it? They were the ones who ran the city, not the boys. They were just boys, and it wasn't their fault.

Everyone was running, Bonifacio pointed out. No one was dealing with anything. And since soccer was off the schedule for the moment the might as well use the time to do something about it. It might also mean they could stop running from cops and monsters and crazy Americans everywhere.

The last point was generally agreed to be a well-put one. The insight that profitably linked world-saving activity to enlightened self-interest went unnoticed and unremarked, as was the wont of the boys who weren't Bonifacio.

'Sides, they were going to make someone pay for the soccer ball, Miguel had added.

At this point Santo, the leader, pondered the gravity of the situation while they continued to belt for the safety of the slums. Okay, here's the plan, he said, mimicking the tone of his favourite gangsters on TV. We head to the stash, we get our cough syrup and cola syrup and green glass bottles, and we call the O.K. Kid. Okay?

The O.K. Kid, ooh, the O.K. Kid. The other boys exclaimed, the very mention of the name putting a fresh spring in their steps. The O.K. Kid will take care of things. The O.K. Kid always does.

But is it all right? Bonifacio asked querulously in the face of his friends' enthusiasm. It takes a lot to call up the O.K. Kid, and they were already down one very expensive soccer ball this week.

Look, Santo snapped as he rode the wave of near-unanimous approval, he was the one who put Bonifacio in charge of keeping track of how many coke bottles and things the boys had because he was good with numbers, but Santo was the one who decides when to use them, okay? Besides, Bonifacio was the one who suggested doing something about it in the first place.

He didn't mean it that way, Bonifacio muttered to himself.

The boys proceeded to their stash with all available haste. They scrambled along tin roofs and played limbo with low-hanging snarls of power lines, vaulted over piles of rubbish and darted between shanties with all the ease and familiarity of fish navigating a coral reef. Without even the need for the effort of thought, familiar paths were traversed and old patterns repeated as they headed for that stronghold of childhood, that small sanctum they had reclaimed and concealed from the world of adults, like their peers the world over.

With the scratch of sneakers, the boys arrived at their destination.

In unspoken unison the stronger ones heaved aside a sheet of metal that only looked like it formed part of the flimsy walls of a hovel, while the other boys kept watch with nervousness. In the triangular space revealed, they pulled out wads of stuffing and copious numbers of bric-a-bracs until several bundles were revealed, wrapped in stained rags and newspaper. All but one were eagerly tore into until their contents were revealed: prescription bottles filled with cherry red cough syrup and gooey brown coke syrup made by carefully boiling down Coca-Cola, a strategic reserve they had intended for situations such as these. When mixed in correct proportions, it was a home-grown recipe for ambrosia, and it was generally consumed not before long; fortunately, they were at that point in the cycle of craving and satiation to have some fresh batches left.

The last bundle was gingerly passed to Santo, who unwrapped it and examined its undamaged contents with satisfaction. Green glass Coca-Cola bottles, more and more troublesome to get hold of these days. But through trial and error the boys had found out that they were the only container that the O.K. Kid would drink cough syrup out of, and the only form of offering that the O.K. Kid would accept.

Santo nodded to the others, a signal that carried the weight of Caesar ordering his legions across the Rubicon. At that, the boys whipped out funnels and rubber hoses from the stash and started the delicate process of mixing the syrups and filling the bottles, a task they undertook with the fervent ceremony particular to youths yet unsullied by decorum or temperance, but who also were nevertheless possessed by the crude and earnest desire not to displease some enigmatic idol.

One bottle of syrup mix was sufficient consideration for a minor favour or blessing, but it was obvious to everyone that the ongoing crisis called for a rather more carte blanche sort of intercession, and without any prompting the boys went on to mix and fill as many as they could. This was unprecedented in the long relationship between the boys and the O.K. Kid, but the former were so giddily imagining the effect they could achieve by sending off such a one-of-a-kind propitiation that they almost didn't mind exhausting their recreational supplies for it.

Soon, under the stern eye of Santo, the offerings were assembled. The retro Coke bottles were filled and stuffed shut with paper twisted around plastic flowers, and wrapped tight in more paper. The cuddyhole was carefully refilled and restored, and the tracks around it were just as carefully concealed. Now all that remained was to leave the offerings at where the O.K. Kid lived, and the O.K. Kid would carry out the O.K. Kid's end of the deal.

The boys set off again, racing each other through the slum they called home even as they clutched their sacred cargo to their heaving chests. They had made the pilgrimage many times before, and the memory of each trip was so remarkable that the route presented itself to them clearly and brightly no matter how the temporary architecture of the slums shifted.

This time, the route sent them scaling hills and scrambling over ledges as it rose higher and higher, a challenge to their virility which they dimly perceived and accepted with gusto. It was Nino, always the scout, who first had the presence of mind to look back over his shoulder and shout to the others as they negotiated a particularly treacherous expanse of other people's roofs.

They paused for a moment. From the direction of the waterfront they saw the dark column of magic that twisted into the sky, and noticed the faint sound of screams that carried on the high winds. The tornado was tremendously large and ominous even at this distance, an unmistakable herald of some coming calamity.

They were definitely in trouble all right, Miguel had observed.

With the sight weighing deeply on their minds, the boys started moving again one by one, more eager than ever to complete their journey. Soon they arrived at the great rubbish heap/landfill/junkyard that was the O.K. Kid's hideout. It was a lot bigger and had a lot more stuff in it than the the boys', facts which never failed to impress upon them its inhabitant's superior place in the pecking order of all things.

Stepping easily past the broken-down fence, the boys picked their way more reverently through the mounds and carpets of scrap and discarded items, heading for a particularly mountainous warren that dominated the landscape. It was made of more than junk – flickering electronics, ornate furniture and whole motor vehicles protruded from the pyramidal mass, piled impossibly high and haphazardly by some miraculous hand. The enormous pile was shot through with holes and openings between the weird things that composed its bulk, many of which were big enough to admit a child; it was consensus that the O.K. Kid lived somewhere inside, but it was impossible to tell which of the gaps were actually used as regular egresses.

Not that the boys had tried to find out – nosing around the warren was strictly forbidden by the O.K. Kid. In fact, doing anything that disturbed the warren aroused the wrath of the O.K. Kid, which was something not even the grownups wanted anything to do with. But the rest of the rubbish dump wasn't off-limits as long as you didn't try to take too much stuff at a time, or took as much as your offerings had already placated their guardian by: which was a good thing, since it was astounding how much of the stuff that circulated through the city ended up here, yet suffer no diminution in their worth. One could live off the bounty of the O.K. Kid's domain as long as one was sufficiently respectful and indeed, enterprising.

The boys circled the warren until Santo found an entrance that looked right. They left the bottles there and withdrew hurriedly, their summons complete. By the time they had slipped back into the slums, they were already considering saving up for a new soccer ball.

Their hearts could not be called pure, but nevertheless some small and clean and bright burned within them: the belief that not even the smallest and meanest of them was without a protector. And as long as they kept their side of the bargain, nothing could go amiss.


From troubled dreams the O.K. Kid awoke.

She woke to an aching neck, the mottling of strange shadows about her lair of compacted junk, and the scent of evil afoot.

And also to the delicious smell of her favourite offering, but to her surprise it was not the first thing she noticed, like she usually did.

The O.K. Kid yawned and rolled over in the non-space of the lair, striking a button with her elbow. A rectangle of static buzzed into life on a cracked TV screen, replacing the darkness with the unsteady flicker of diode-generated light. Something was close enough and powerful enough to be jamming the reception of her scrying channel thing. This wasn't a good sign.

Alarm quickened within the O.K. Kid, brushing away the last vestiges of her slumber but none of the troubled feelings from her dreams. It was no coincidence that the gang of boys had left offerings for her at the same time. Something was messing with her turf, and those few who venerated her were suffering for it.

The O.K. Kid was young by the standards of diwata-spirits, and she found that she could come out of the decimated forests and indwell the twisted geometries of human cities tolerably enough, while others of her vanishing kind proved less adaptable.

And a new environment brought with it a whole spectrum of fresh opportunities. At day, she supped on their artfully manufactured delicacies, their chemicals, and availed herself of their costumed entertainments transmitted through the ether. At night, (and sometimes at day too, be the propitiation adequate) she spirited out of her fastness of ruin to answer the requests made of her, visiting relief to those who had pleased her and fear to those who didn't. In such forays, she came to know the city and its ways, its people and its architecture, its signs and its secrets.

So it was her familiar city that she felt now, recoiling from the miasma that lay over it like a forceful lover. She felt it in the skyscrapers, she felt it in the sewers, she felt it so pervasively that she almost mistook it for a shift in the pitch of the city itself. It had even insinuated into her dreams, filling them with the same undertone of unease that she had tried to shrug off as she awoke and found that she couldn't. It was as though a web of roots had grown to clutch her chest, and each beat of her ethereal heart was shadowed by a stab of pain.

A second thought passed upon the mind of the O.K. Kid. The evil feeling that besieged her also besieged everything as far as her senses could reach, stretching far beyond the slum, the neighbourhood and even the city with no abatement. Whatever was going on was big. Probably a lot bigger than what a little diwata can handle. There were simply too many things these days in the world of humans that she could get in over her head with, and this looked worse than most.

The O.K. Kid shed her nest of blankets, revealing overlapping layers of ill-fitting clothes. By the light of the cracked TV screen, the outline of the lair danced and shifted, becoming less warren-like and more room-like with every flicker. Her crawl became a shuffle, then a slow and steady stroll as the un-space widened to accommodate her every step, even though every wall seemed to remain the same arrangement of compacted junk. A passage opened before her, as natural a part of the chamber as something that had always been there. She stepped into it, navigating its twists and turns until the flickering gloom started to give way to the steady glow of daylight.

She squinted and stooped as she proceeded, for the more sunlight filtered into the passage the lower and narrower it became, the dramatic conveniences of the otherworld giving way to the reality of the rubbish dump. The O.K. Kid emerged blinking from a crevice between a speedboat and a rusting refrigerator, and espied the circle of green glass bottles that was the extraordinary offering. By her standards, there were quite a lot of them. There were in fact more of them than she had ever seen in an offering.

It was the rules, wasn't it? The O.K. Kid was being beseeched with everything those boys had (or at least a good, honest chunk of it) and this demanded some serious consideration on her part. Such was the sacred trust between spirit and man, and there were precious few enough humans who held up their end of the bargain these days.

The boys had been good to her. They at least believed in her – not that nobody believing in her would cause her to fade away or anything – but they at least believed in her enough to do the right rituals and offer her the right sacral (and recreational) beverages to really get her going in the evenings. That, and the freely offered memory of their smiles; their laughter, even, as she sowed devastation among rival child gangs and troublesome adults on their behalf. Such bonds were much beyond what her kind could hope for these days, and rightly she holds them as priceless treasures.

When it came down to it, the choice had already been made for her. The laws of the spirits must prevail even in this fallen world. The nature of the O.K. Kid was such that she could no less resist the summons, already bound into so much reciprocity that it was nascent tradition, than the taste of cough syrup cut with sticky-sweet, boiled-down cola that she so craved.

A tiny step more took her out of her lair, a hooded shadow in sunlight. A swipe of the arm and a clink of glass and she was hurrying back through the otherworldly passage, the bottles in her arms. She traversed the illusion of distance until she was back in her chamber, which now resembled nothing less than a grand shrine. More TV screens were lit now, bathing the cthonic cathedral in stark, flickering monochrome. The moulded walls and their arched pillars glittered with emeralds. Eagerly in the half-light, the O.K. Kid unstoppered each offering, taking the plastic flowers and inserting them into the mouth of the only bottle she ever left intact, which overflowed with their faded petals. Then she raised each bottle and drained them slowly before smashing them upon the crush of the floor, savouring the special mixture in her own private ritual. Its heady effects diffused into her spirit, and in the timeless instant of the divine trance, she felt her vision expand and her strength blossom.

She let one overly long sleeve fall back and snapped fingers that trembled still slightly. All but one TV screen shut off with an audible, synchronized whine, and the temple became a chamber again. The O.K. Kid sauntered over to a lopsided metal locker set into the walls and pulled it open. From its interior she drew forth a baseball bat. And another. And another.

The O.K. Kid acted not because she believed in the choice of the matter. In the light of the branching after-images that still glittered and lanced behind her eyelids, she was as good as compelled to do what she must.

To be continued...
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

Coming NEVER

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Shroom Man 777
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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Fri Jun 22, 2012 7:28 pm

Oh wow, that was good. Diwatas!

I like this, man. I really like this. Some Neil Gaimany urban fantasy American Philippine gods-stuff going on here.

Cough syrup-addicted diwata girl with bat, gang of street kids, save the world!

"Sometimes Shroomy I wonder if your imagination actually counts as some sort of war crime." - FROD

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Ford Prefect » Sun Jun 24, 2012 11:30 am

Shroom Man 777 wrote:Cough syrup-addicted diwata girl with bat, gang of street kids, save the world!
It's the only NEET thing to do.

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Invictus » Wed Jul 11, 2012 5:31 am

Still in Metro Manila

Edge coaxed his whining Stygian motorcycle down the narrow and cluttered street, the former fuming with impatience, the latter with a bestial need for speed. He'd been trying to call Chaos for five minutes straight and he still hadn't called back. How did the idiot get separated from him after cruising through a mere two junctions? Why do these complications have to happen in the middle of surreptitious flights through unfamiliar cities after betraying the trust of all-powerful and high-handed employers?

Edge sighed. Such was the fate of all well-made plans. Such was why he didn't even bother firing up his hyper-processing brain computers for anything constructive most of the time. Not in a world where his partner failed to follow simple instructions, or never displayed the curiosity to figure out how to work the GPS tracking functions on his self-proclaimed favourite ride ever.

Mental dials pinged and told Edge that he needed a cigarette. Edge agreed.

He took his hands off the bike carefully, but not before thwarting its urge to immediately accelerate and careen into a rack of children's toys printed with ersatz cartoon characters or something by activating the automatic speed limiters. He could feel his steed's vibrations increase slightly – as though in frustration – as he straightened and lit up. Edge had heard that some really high-end motorcycles had pretty good autopilot AIs built into them, but binding a literal speed demon into one really was no substitute.

His bike rolled on restively while he sat upright on it and left a trail of bitter smoke behind him, looking rather ridiculous as he did so. Good thing the street was deserted. Darkness' summoned help couldn't have caught everyone in this densely populated a city, but they did manage to intercept all the people they could find and herd them away. Only he and his mortal co-conspirator were entirely ignored by the monsters. As to their destination, Edge could make a well-educated guess, having just fled from there. There must be civilians somewhere out here that the monsters had missed, but Edge also surmised that they had done the smart thing and gone to ground in that inimitable way third world inhabitants did.

A man whose entrepreneurial spirit finally overpowered his sense of self-preservation stuck his head from behind a streetside counter for an instant. Unfortunately, this was an instant too long because his eyes immediately met the ones Edge kept behind his shades, which narrowed. The middle-aged shopkeeper snapped his head down as though nobody saw anything interesting, but it was too late to prevent Edge's attention from moving onto his establishment. It looked like some sort of street café. Still nothing from his phone.

"Oh fuck it, I'll give you another five minutes." Edge muttered under his breath and nudged his bike towards the dinky little place. Seeing the stranger implacable, the shopkeeper gingerly straightened from behind the counter and watched as Edge parked the bike and plopped himself down on the cleanest of the peeling, faux wood-panelled folding stools with a rattle.

His eyes then followed Edge's hand slapping a dollar bill onto the table. "I'm only going to bother you with one thing: go make me the most expensive cup of coffee you'll ever make." Edge said, raising his shades and glancing back.

The shopkeeper looked around until he was satisfied that there were no monsters around. His gaze then went back to Edge, then to the slim shapes of his holstered laser gunblades, then to the greenback pinned under Edge's fingers.

Edge looked at where the shopkeeper was looking, raised his eyebrow, and took his hand off the bill expansively.

Apparently mollified, the shopkeeper nodded curtly and started fiddling with the coffee-making apparatus behind his counter.

Edge set a stiff elbow on the table. The muggy midday heat caught up with his immobile form, and even his supersoldier body was not having any of it and started to sweat inside his suit. The mixture of urban pollutants, demonic exhaust and ambient sorcery lent the very air a sharp, irritating presence. Over the skyline, the black gyre of magic was still spinning about and the glow of the fire hadn't gotten any brighter, and from that he made the tentative conclusion that he could afford to have a brief breather. Besides, getting out of here without Chaos was a bit pointless.

As he waited, he found himself slipping into a kind of reverie amid the clink of metal and the drip of decanting liquid. Here he was, taking a coffee break in the middle of escaping a potential apocalypse on a motorcycle that behaved more like a large dog, waiting for his partner to get in contact with him again after getting lost in the traffic. The sheer surreality of the situation must be putting him in shock, Edge imagined to himself.

Ah, imagination, that particular trigger-concept. He felt the familiar itch at the back of his head, that invitation to ride the impulse back into the much-adored navel of his own headware, to hand the keys to his zombie routines and to run a few desultory deathmatches, just so he could spend some time in a place which made sense for a change. There was nothing wrong with engaging his imagination in his line of work, even if his imagination happened to be wired into an implanted computer network that digitally rendered half his consciousness at superhuman speeds. Imagination lets him come up with tactical alternatives. It lets him come up with strategic outs.

Sure, he was a professional and professionals were supposed to honour their contracts. But nothing about this job had seemed legit from the beginning, from the very nature of their travelling employer to the probable outcome of his plans. Edge wasn't some kind of toady who owed an unquestioning duty to his supervillain. He was a contractor, a freelancer, a man who had every expectation to raise healthy doubts over the basis of his commitment to jobs that go south like this. (But then it was also going according to the boss-person's plan. Did it mean it was going south like Sherman's March?) It was practically a vital part of his profession to see beyond the mad spiels of his employers and actually consider where events would take them at the end, and in particular whether he and Chaos would live to get paid and also enjoy said pay. All that needed imagination, didn't it? What was wrong with playing out a few scenarios?

Edge's mind wavered between resistance and acquiescence, and before he knew it he was letting procedural experiences bleed into his sensory perceptions. Cybernetic phantoms flitted like mirages over the harsh sun and the too-empty streets.

Five names spun into his consciousness, from somewhere between the depths of his funk and the clouds of his fancy, announced as though by some chain-smoking narrator.

Naked Zuma.

Jungle Agta.

Double Kalibre.

Manong Morlock.

Taong Grasa.

Five pythons, comrades of old, long in the tooth, but with bites no less deadly.

Even now, Python Unit is moving into position to avenge the injury you have done to their mother country. There is no escape.

Edge sat bolt upright. The coffeeman started, nearing spilling the cup he had carried almost halfway to his table.

What the hell was that? Edge massaged his temples, ignoring the coffee-bearing guy who hovered uncertainly between the chipped tables of his own establishment. He was pretty sure that something that wasn't from his imagination or headware databases had just flashed across his Cartesian theatre. It was highly unusual – but then, in an environment this saturated with errant magic, which meant lots of synchronous conductivity – it wasn't an impossibility. The pressing issue was whether the warning actually meant anything, or was the oracular equivalent of random-number gibberish.

It was then that Edge heard the sound of car doors slamming shut, and the extra cadence of an idling engine which had materialized in the rhythm of the quiet streets.

Edge mentally shook himself clear of the residual misfirings of his digital neurons and turned to stare at what looked like a SUV cross-bred with a classic muscle car, with dust-caked chrome fittings and a whole buffalo skull mounted on the grille. The hybrid monstrosity was parked a ways down the street, and from that distance the only way it could have sneaked up on him was while he was having his inadvertent daydream. Funny, that.

Edge's gaze then shifted to the small phalanx of men who had just quitted the extravagant vehicle. The coffeeman's eyes meanwhile flitted between the safety of his counter and the dollar bill on Edge's table, his face wracked in conundrum, his limbs struggling to convey him in opposite directions. The paralysis lasted for an agonizing few seconds, before he finally leapt the remaining few steps to Edge's table, practically dropped the coffee on the table with a clang, snatched up the crumpled greenback with a snap, and retreated behind the counter in a showering patter of footsteps.

The men who approached Edge were a bunch of hickish dudes with loud shirts and tasteless tattoos. They carried themselves with a kind of choreographed swagger, sporting well-practiced leers and thumbing a variety of blades and handguns appreciatively. The particulars of their manner were nothing more than local flavour to him, but they bore the universal stamp of gangsters who made trouble for other people as a living. Edge thought it was all a delightfully provincial sight.

Edge wondered what made them decide to make trouble for someone so much further up the totem pole.

Perhaps their leader, Edge mused. The man wore gold jewellery and aviator sunglasses of the kind which went out of fashion about two decades ago. But that was less evident a sign of his leadership than his massive frame and girth. A bulging gut hung over his belt, almost completely obscuring the plate-like buckle embossed with crossed revolvers. But there were other signs. He moved in stark contrast to his band of ruffians, a military bearing that struggled to resist the effects of age and girth. Engaging a de-aging model subroutine, Edge idly speculated that the man could well have cut a formidable figure a few decades ago. The snakeskin handle of a .45 calibre revolver dangled from a shoulder holster wedged under the folds of his armpit. The holster itself was worn leather even though its straps and fittings looked newer, probably refitted to the man's current size. His hair was midnight black and swirled into a mullet. He also clutched an antique black walkie-talkie in his free hand, and Edge could tell from the minuscule whisper of static that it was live. An interesting detail.

All in all, it seemed that he was about to face an ex-soldier, whose buffoonish exterior held some tarnished core of aptitude, and his posse of toughs. The day just kept getting more interesting and not in any sense that Edge was in a mood to appreciate.

Edge's face twitched into a smirk even as internal neural routines warmed his body up for action.

The strangers were almost upon him now. The posse of expendables didn't quite try to to fan out and surround him but instead let themselves form a slightly flattened blob as they jostled to a stop behind their leader. A rookie mistake if there ever was one.

Edge stood up slowly, the movement nudging his stool backwards. The closest toughs recoiled minutely, but their leader stepped forward as though to field the challenge.

"You've been makin' trouble in these parts lately." The man said in pidgin English.

"So what if I have?" Edge replied.

"Listen, we in these parts don't like troublemakers. Especially you city slicker types who think you're so smart and you know what you're doing. We don't appreciate that."

"You don't appreciate that." Edge made the motion of looking him and his posse up and down. "And who are you?"

"Me?" The leader guffawed. Seeing his lead, his men also started guffawing. "I'll forgive you this time for not knowing who I am, since you're not from these parts." He spat the toothpick he was chewing at Edge's shoe and missed. "People who know me, call me Double Kalibre. You better keep that name in you head, 'cause I'd rather not beat it into you."

"You're only wearing one gun." Edge pointed out reflexively.

"Then you ain't countin' right!" Double Kalibre executed a little pelvic thrust that set off miniature landslides on his substantial gut. His men chortled amongst each other.

"I see. Double Kalibre, huh." Edge said evenly. "So you've come here to run me out of town because you're not up to persecuting an invincible demon? Should my heart go out to you?"

The gangsters hushed. Edge saw Double Kalibre's jowls shift minutely as his jaw set underneath.

"If it weren't for you bunch of idiotic meddlers muscling in on the country, none of us would have to do this." The sudden anger that steamed off the man hit Edge like a heat wave. "I'd still be doing good honest work at Hacienda Luisita, not come out all the way here to waste my time with you."

"I have to doubt the moral qualities of your day job compared to your current assignment. But then, that's enough hot air from the pot." Edge shifted, causing a rattle as some of the gangsters involuntarily brought up their street-fighting implements. "I think I've figured out who you are, and what you're planning to do." He said plainly. "Advance warning, you know, in case you really feel that you have to go through with what will happen next."

Double Kalibre's gun-hand twitched. "Python Unit will accomplish the mission it has been given."

Edge shrugged. "Suit yourself."

Double Kalibre drew admirably quickly for a man of his age and size, right hand flashing across his wide chest for his revolver and already snapping back as it left his wrist in a flash of ruby light, arcing and tumbling and taking the oversized revolver away with it. The man himself rocked back for an instant, his eyes widened more in desperation than fear, but then recovered and lunged forward at Edge, ignoring the cauterized stump of his wrist and the smoking wound in his shoulder.

Edge obliged him. Double Kalibre's stomach cratered as it met Edge's foot, and his mouth widened silently as he barrelled backwards into his own posse. Edge pushed off with the counter-momentum and backflipped over his own table, snagging his cup of coffee as he did so. In his other hand, his laser gunblade trailed a little wisp of smoke.

He landed lightly, dialled up the power with a little mental twist, and cut again.

A scream came from the crowd of bowed-over gangsters as Double Kalibre's entire left side erupted in flames, cremating flesh and clothing alike. His stomach sagged strangely, as though something underneath had been cut loose.

"Nice try, but the sweat patterns on your shirt gave it away." Edge remarked as Double Kalibre struggled to right himself. "Any regrets?" He paused to cut down the few fleeing gangsters, little arcs of light snipping heads from shoulders. "Rhetorical question." A thin beam bisected Double Kalibre from shoulder to hip.

When the signal from Double Kalibre's half-melted pacemaker ceased, the harness of many explosives he had concealed under his clothing detonated to deadly effect.

That is, in the middle of his own flunkies.

The actual force of the explosives were mostly spent pulverizing the panicked gangsters, The nails and ball bearings packed into the bombs flew erratically, erupting from a jury-rigged harness whose structure had already been badly compromised by laserfire. Some slammed into the pavement like hard rain. Others flew up and wreaked rebounding trails of destruction in the narrow urban spaces. One nail plinked off a roof and was almost going to clip Edge's cup of coffee until he noticed and shifted his hand. An ink-black toupee, styled into a mullet, hit the ground with a soft plop.

He looked out from behind the overturned table he had been using as cover.

Beyond the messy crater of dismembered limbs and charred gobbets of flesh, the SUV/limo monstrosity was backing up desperately, its bulletproof windscreen and subtly up-armoured bodywork a shrapnel-studded mess. Edge peppered the driver's seat with concentrated pulses until the vehicle juddered to a stop.

Then its sunroof whined open and a small minigun turret slowly rose out of it.

Edge cut its ammo belt before it could open fire, bullets cooking off in their casings like a string of firecrackers. Then he stabbed the creaky contrivance with more pulses until it crumpled on itself and the hydraulic fluids that powered its servo motors started burning.

Edge holstered his red-hot laser gunblade in its chic ceramic holster and examined his coffee. It was still warm.

He walked back over to the little streetside café thing. Its canopy had been blown to blood-flecked shreds that dangled listlessly in the deadening air. None of the flimsy stools and tables had survived intact. Edge propped a folding table back upright again, but its faux-wood tabletop was ripped away entirely by some conspiracy of the shockwave and the shrapnel, and only a bald metal stand was left behind.

Edge looked at the bit of the café that was inside the building. The counter's solid frame was slightly warped by the explosion and its plastic sides had ruptured, but it was intact. He sauntered over to it and looked behind.

The coffeeman was still trembling behind the counter, looking shaken but uninjured. He flinched when the shadow of Edge's head loomed over him. "This coffee better be good."

Propping an elbow on the counter, Edge tipped the cup for the slightest sip, and froze.

Two turns of the street away, a mound of garbage mumbled slightly to itself as it zipped up its trousers. It picked up a battered, filth-encrusted black walkie-talkie and mouthed, "<You're up.>"

Edge very thoroughly spat the tiny mouthful of coffee back into the cup, leaned over the counter until he caught the coffeeman's attention again, and tipped the whole cup onto his upturned, clammy face.

The abused coffeeman shrieked as the hot products of his labour streamed off his visage and soaked into his clothes. "So, which one of the other four are you?" Edge asked conversationally.

"<I didn't do anything!>" The coffeeman screamed in uncomprehending fear. "<I swear!>"

"No, you probably don't have anything to do with it." Edge said to himself as he shook the last few drops of coffee into his host's blinking eyes. "Shady ex-military forces going to lengths to repay my involvement in this whole distressing business is one thing. Doing something as petty as pissing in my coffee is another."

Edge threw the cup aside. Gasping, the coffeeman scrambled up and retreated deeper into the unlit recesses of the store. He had taken about five steps when a small, pale figure sprang from between the shelves, knocking him over. Edge stopped dead, as the creature briefly regarded him before focusing its attention back on the stunned coffeeman. Edge could make out the hunched body, the wide, inquisitive eyes, the sniffing nose, the bomb vest...

He dived away from the entrance of the ravaged café just as it was consumed by a roiling fireball.

Edge rolled and sprang to his feet, instantly hyper-alert for the sign of any more suicide bombers that looked like trained Morlocks, even as chains of inference started to coalesce in his cyborg mind.

Double Kalibre was not sticking to the plan. The desperately direct confrontation reeked of improvisation. What was the original plan, then? Was the strange reverie that he almost succumbed to part of Python Unit's Plan A? Maybe that (almost certainly) supernatural lapse was some form of magical attack which was supposed to put him in a good long trance, so Double Kalibre and his goons could simply walk up and whack him. That explained the timing of the car as it approached the café. They didn't expect the magical attack to fail until the very last moment, and Double Kalibre wasn't expecting to confront a fully functional Edge. Nevertheless, they thought they had a chance, so they took it.

But Double Kalibre was also a decoy. It was there to distract him while his cup of coffee was being tampered with. If Edge's opponents had the kind of magical firepower to induce trances on him, it wasn't inconceivable that they could piss into his coffee at a distance – and unseen. But for what purpose? And how was it connected to the sudden suicide Morlock?

Edge had read up on Morlocks and knew they were about as smart as his internal playerbots. Complicated instructions certainly didn't stay with them long enough for them to carry out complicated tasks like a targeted suicide bombing. But it was conceivable that they could be trained to home in on a specific chemical mark: a scent, perhaps, of urine containing some specific substance that survived passage through the digestive system and stayed in the body for for a while, maybe even emerging with body odour. That could have been why the Morlock ignored him in favour of blowing up at the coffeeman, who had been drenched in his own contaminated brew.

For once, his noggin was coming in handy.

Movement. A small, mangy dog trotted into the street, perhaps attracted by all the fresh meat. Edge lowered his laser gunblade.

There was a heavy clang of metal. Edge spun and sliced the top off the hairless head that was emerging from a manhole. There was a plop and a splash as it fell, but no explosion. No deadman switch, probably manual detonation. That made things more straightforward.

There were soft pattering noises at the edge of Edge's hearing and he scanned the roofs and windows of the nearby low-rises. Morlocks were good climbers and good sneakers. Two laser beams scythed up and about, dislodging cracked tiles and small falling bodies. Edge dismembered them in mid-air, careful not to ignite the explosives.

Someone was herding the Morlocks into his vicinity so they could home in on the scent they were trained to follow. Otherwise it was impossible for them to still be appearing one after the other even though he had barely touched any of the coffee.

Edge spotted his demon bike, which had been knocked over during all the fracas but looked essentially undamaged. It was good forethought to park it relatively far off. Getting himself more mobility was a good idea if he wanted to break out of the rather tepid but even more tedious ambush. He skidded over to it and pushed it upright. While he did so, more Morlocks scuttled out of the sewers, sniffing for their target. Edge shot them unceremoniously.

He reached out to press the ignition button on the motorcycle, but as he did so his left hand – the same hand he had been holding the coffee cup with – cramped. Edge gasped in surprise. His supersoldier body wasn't supposed to get cramps with only this much exertion.

The pain shot through his arm like it was being cored by a red-hot endoscope and branched out like writhing hydra's heads as it entered his shoulder. Edge flinched – it was extremely painful on the most fundamental level, even as his brain implants coolly informed him that it was at best a phantom sensation, not corresponding to any physical damage. A voodoo attack then, and a good one. But how-

The dog.

Edge's cybernetic subconscious threw up digitally-captured memories, including a flash of the mutt slinking away with something brown-strained and broken between its teeth-

The pain was making it difficult to concentrate. The temptation came to Edge to withdraw his consciousness, pulling up his programmed behavioural routines to put up with the magical assault on his senses, but that was not a smart idea. His little resident zombie in the Chinese room wasn't good at handling surprises, and Edge knew well enough from years of experience that fights tended to be full of those. He had to bear with it if he wanted to see his way out of this one intact.

Forget the bike for now, Edge instructed himself as he stumbled away from his bike. Follow the dog, geek the mage and solve the immediate problem. Namely, the debilitation that was probably the set-up for another direct attack.

A sinuous, striped shape whipped off one of the motorcycle's handlebars to snap at Edge's outstretched arm, almost too fast for the human eye to see.

Edge was much faster than the average human. The viper issued a dying hiss as the front third of its body flicked harmlessly to the ground.

Edge did what he doesn't do very often and snapped a specific macro at just his left arm, having it draw his other laser gunblade. With the pain lighting up inside him like a Christmas tree, he held both weapons in a wide, awkward pose and swept the field for more surprises.

A tiny ball of a man – no, not a Morlock, just a midget – smashed through a wall with a cloud of debris, clutching a blowgun to its lips. Edge batted the dart out of the air even as the apparition rolled to a stop and unfolded itself into a man not five feet high. He was barefoot and stripped to the waist, and his scraggly beard was coiled around his neck. Beady, reptilian eyes glinted from his wide face, and his sallow flesh was thoroughly pierced with barbs and reeds.

"Didn't know that the Philippines had these kind of freaks. Shouldn't be surprised." Edge murmured to himself.

The dwarf raised his blowgun, which on closer inspection was also a pipe, and began to play.

Snakes of every size and colour slithered forth in a narrowing circle around Edge, coming out of cracks in the pavement and sliding down canopy poles. Their warning hiss was a universal susurrus they punctuated with the sinuous rhythm of their advance and the fey melody that controlled them.

"Snakes." Edge complained feverishly, "Why did it have to be snakes?" as he laid into the creatures with his laser gunblades.

The snakes closest to the mercenary detonated in superheated clouds of flesh and venom as they were raked with punishing barrages of micro-pulses. Edge knew that all these wave-like assaults were as much about finding an opening in his defences as using up all the juice in his weapons. A python reared up over him, three times as long as he was tall – and in a flash he hewed it to chunks with the solid bladebarrels on his laser gunblades, sending discomforting impacts up his arm that only seemed to reverberate and double the phantom pain. Sapping his stamina was also a likely goal, the cooler parts of his mind appended.

Another python swept in from beneath, coiling dizzy circles around Edge as it left the ground. Edge immediately buried a laser gunblade into its head – but the floating hiltstock couldn't auto-adjust fast enough, and the angle was awkward – and he had to let go of it before the dying animal's thrashing tore it out of his hand. He really wasn't thinking clearly. Disabling the charmer would save him a lot of this trouble.

He tossed his remaining live gunblade into his left hand which wasn't responding very well any more, and had to spin his entire body to cut another circle of destruction through the oncoming snakes. But that was distraction enough for his right hand to reach discreetly into his suit jacket for the magnetized shoulder case. In the brief window where his right shoulder faced the dwarf snake handler, his arm flashed out and his fingers flicked, and a spinning shape was hurtling through the air.

The dwarf ignored it. Instead, a cobra uncoiled from around his waist to interpose its fanned head between him and the projectile. Unfortunately for the cobra, the monomolecular-edged carbon playing card sliced through it without slowing, and the dwarf's eyes widened before he threw himself into a rolling ball to avoid the card's trajectory. But it was too late for his pipe, which snicked in half and clattered to ground scarce moments after the card embedded itself corner-first into the pavement.

With the music stopped, the legion of snakes lost focus and Edge, retrieving his other laser gunblade, slaughtered them.

The dwarf had uncoiled himself and was regarding him reproachfully.

"What're you going to do?" Edge grinned through the pain. "You don't play dice with Chaos, and you don't play cards with Edge. Common knowledge."

Contemptuously, the dwarf raised his arms with an incongruous whistling noise. Edge realized that the reeds and barbs that pierced through the flesh of his arms and the rest of his body were hollow, and that his opponent was one living musical instrument. Then Edge was staring into the reddened holes bored into the centre of the dwarf's outstretched palms, and the pair of snakes that shot out of them like squirts of silly string.

Edge didn't have time to be surprised. He barrelled right, favouring his still-functioning right arm to parry one of the snakes and let the other one zip over his left shoulder, twisting vainly in mid-air to sink its fangs into his flesh. This brought him into the clouds of foul venom-smoke that still rose from the hundreds of dead and charred snakes littering the ground. The breath caught in Edge's throat as he almost faltered, its effects complementing the voodoo on him far too well. What kind of snake venom could survive this kind of violent heat-vaporization, he didn't want to know.

Edge accelerated through it anyway, a black blur that overshot the mist in an instant. The dwarf moved with surprising speed also to cut him off, the wind shrieking through the gaps in his body, shooting snakes from his hands. Edge switched his lasers back to pulses again, blowing every flying serpent out of the air in a chain of bloody detonations that reached back to the dwarf's outstretched hands. He threw his arms back before the retaliatory fire could touch him, and suddenly snakes were pouring out of every pierced orifice on his body, forming a living shield between him and the barrage. There was a final explosion of vaporizing blood and shredded snakeskin, and a human ball bounced out of it, scorched but very much alive.

Edge stopped to cough, and the fit almost brought him to one knee. Still, he stabbed his cooling and popping laser gunblades pointapeture first into the ground and heaved himself back up. "How many times can you do that before you run out of snakes?" He taunted.

He then noticed the shadow loomed behind him.

Edge threw himself into a sideways roll as a massive brown fist smashed into the concrete with an explosion of cinders. A bare foot the size of a hoe followed and Edge barely managed to block its arcing path into his ribs with his crossed laser gunblades, but the force still sent him skidding along the street. He lashed out with his lasers as soon as he got his arms untangled, forcing the giant to leap back before his feet were cut off at the ankles. Edge used the time to throw a palm against the ground and flip himself upright.

The newcomer was incredibly tall and long-limbed, resting lightly on all fours like some massive insect. His frame was hung with sporty clothes that barely fitted him. His curly hair was jammed under a wide-brimmed hat, and he clutched between brown teeth the biggest cigar Edge has even seen.

Edge levelled one laser gunblade at him, while trying to keep an eye on the dwarf.

The cigar shifted in the giant's mouth and suddenly the giant's cheeks were bulging as he channelled one long exhalation through it. A wave of thick black smoke boiled forth and rolled at Edge like a thundercloud.

Edge opened fire. The laser beam burst into the cloud and dissipated like a flash of lightning, its energy absorbed by the dense particulates.

Edge raised an eyebrow at the rapidly spreading cloud as he backpedalled. What the hell kind of tobacco smoke could disperse military-grade lasers?

The dwarf went on the offensive again, a single long and thin viper lashing from his hand like a living whip. Edge threw down one laser gunblade, pinning the snake-whip to the ground by the head. Grimacing, he swiped out another throwing card and flung it through the dispersing cloud of smoke, parting it with its passage. Of course, the giant wasn't behind it any more.

A voodoo spasm hit his left leg like jackhammers, and Edge suddenly crumpled sideways. With this opening the giant was somehow behind him again, fists angling for his head. Edge pushed off with one leg and flew fifteen feet sideways into a neighbouring store, cutting down its canopy as he swept past its supporting poles. The tacky affair fell and draped over the face of the store even as he crashed into the depths of it. That should buy him a little time.

After he was finally laying still in a mess of furniture, Edge inspected the gloom. He had thrown himself into what looked like a bakery, judging by the collapsed shelf of loaves he was lying on. It also explained why the impact felt softer than he expected. His left arm and leg had failed to the point of combat-unworthiness, his chest felt like a china shop in a typhoon and his head felt like a busy construction site. Whatever mojo his magical assailant was pouring through that brief connection to the coffee cup he had been holding was very, very serious.

Edge then noticed the hissing. They weren't bothering to play bluff with him by trying to get through the fallen canopy blind – they were just sending in the snakes. His one remaining laser was running on fumes. It was dark and crowded in the little indoor store, he only had enough mobility left to pull off brute force manoeuvres and there wasn't enough room for them, and snakes were very good at sensing targets in the dark.

Edge would have enjoyed a game of laser bluff.


Two turns of the street away, the pile of rubbish that was Taong Grasa retched and dislodged more of itself.

He still wasn't dead. Both the mind and body of the damnable target had been shielded and strengthened with devilish artifice, and he still wasn't dead.

Taong Grasa had tapped into the collective spirit of his comrades to launch a mental assault on him: a well-practised spell boosted with magnitudes of borrowed strength, which would have mesmerized the consciousness in any human brain – but instead it got tangled up in all the pervasive occult static and even leaked vital mission intelligence across the link. It was a disaster. He was going to get a tongue-lashing from ol' Gringo, provided that he lived through this.

In his defence, the shaman had been living as an utterly destitute beggar for the last twenty years, and it was still a wonder that he could remember any of his spells. Nevertheless, he had sworn in an earlier life to answer the call when it came, and he was there when the call came. Couldn't blame him for being less prepared than the others. He was too busy trying not to starve to death slowly in a city filled with much more skilful beggars than he.

But even after all those decades of languishment, he had come up with a backup plan that would have gone off without a hitch if Double Kalibre hadn't gotten it in his head to go out in a blaze of glory. From what he'd heard about the things he had been up to after they disbanded, his former comrade had become a disgrace to the uniform that he used to fit into. His final bit of rashness had almost cost Taong Grasa the focus he could have ridden, and it was already so tenuous a connection. In the end, he had to risk sending out his familiar to retrieve the coffee cup for him.

He moved his right hand – slightly, as not to spill the elaborate pattern of blood that he had pasted over it – to stroke the snout of the mutt who had followed him loyally all these years. This action brushed away the flies that were settling on its face. His familiar had bled out minutes prior, cut open from throat to belly.

But worst of all was having Manong Morclock's battle plan take priority over his. He never trusted the chemical triggers and behavioural methods that the old man used to condition his subhuman pawns, and the very idea of having Morlocks – Morlocks! – be the last line of defence before the nation's honour left a worse taste in his mouth than the stuff VaticanBurger threw out back did. For such a roundabout way to mark the target for his science project dupes (he remembered the tonic he had been made to drink beforehand, and how it burned its way down to his bladder) he could have magicked it to death a long time ago, and that measure of vengeance could at least have been doled out before they moved to resist the demon, however futilely.

Well look now, as far as he could decipher from the code phases from his walkie-talkie, his plan was the one that was working.

Taong Grasa retched again, but there hadn't been anything in his stomach all day. It was the pain, he was sure, travelling through an occult conduit his own body was very much a part of. He was sure he wasn't supposed to feel this much of it. Maybe there was a flaw in his spell. Maybe it was simply overflowing. The demonic miasma seemed to be spreading the suffering regardless of his intentions, sparing nothing and nobody.

Ignoring the spasms in his stomach, he turned his thumping head to inspect the bamboo stakes impaled at strategic points into his left arm and leg, corresponding to the patterns he had daubed over himself with dog's blood. He had done his best with an unsteady hand, but he could still feel the slow guttering of his vitality beneath every tide-pulse of pain. Shock was finally catching up with him. The fragments of a coffee cup lay over his heart, arranged in a rough circle.

Alas, extreme measures were necessary to open up this tenuous sympathetic connection. He had patted his dog for a job well done, and he had commanded it to lay on its back while he cut it open so its blood would pool in the body cavity without too much spilling. It would otherwise have taken too much blood for him to even survive starting the ritual. That was how much he had to sacrifice in the end.

And it had turned out like this anyway. He didn't think he could walk this one off, not with the way he was taxing himself – he had to trust in his comrades to carry the fight for the honour of his nation, to show that even in the face of overwhelming power, defiance was his people's final recourse. Yes, even Manong Morlock and his subterranean brood, an admittedly unpleasant thought.

At least, Taong Grasa smiled a little to himself as he slowly and metaphysically bled out in an alley, he had done his duty to his last.

He heard a furtive rustling and raised his head painfully. Something was in the gloom with him, sniffing and treading on his rubbish. He couldn't move the rest of his body without interrupting the spell, the only thing that was keeping his vastly outclassed comrades alive in the engagement. Bony fingers touched his leg. He heard more sniffing.

A hairless head popped into Taong Grasa's field of vision, its myopic eyes were wide, and it was grinning a grin of childish triumph.

"Manong Morlock, you fucking moro..."


Jungle Agta perched on a nearby balcony, watching for any signs of movement from behind the collapsed canopy as Naked Zuma marshalled what was left of his snake legions into the target's final redoubt. Taong Grasa was doing his job well. The mercenary was finished, no matter how superhuman he might be.

There were two explosions.

One, from around two street corners away, sending up a plume of smoke from behind the buildings and rattling the balcony Jungle Agta was on. His head snapped in its direction, dismay crossing his features.

The second one was the fallen canopy of the besieged store erupting outwards, a massive bulging shape that went spinning and flapping into the middle of the street. Snakes draped over cakes and loaves coiled in the sudden sunlight.

Jungle Agta's head snapped back. His teeth ground into his cigar.

He issued a primeval roar and sprang off his perch like an oversized gargoyle. The bulk of the flying canopy met his foot in mid-air and crumpled inwards, bleeding pastries and bent trays.

Behind it soared Edge, and his descending blade.

Jungle Agta bellowed smoke.

Fat waves of it parted before Edge's killing slash, revealing where his opponent wasn't.

The mercenary fell, a dark trail torn downwards from the air to the ground, ragged wisps still clinging to the edge of his gunblade. Below him, steamed buns pattered as they bounced from ruined racks.

And the smoke boiled up from around him, cutting the street from view. It was another cloud from the giant's cigar, and Edge had fallen from the fixed trajectory of his mid-air counterattack right into the midst of it.

Edge closed his eyes. His opponent was a phantom, combining astounding agility with the strange power to vanish and reappear with his smoke. If there was a blind angle in his defences, the giant lurking in the smoke would find it.

But it was well within Edge's capabilities to feign a blind angle or two, making his movements a bit wider than necessary. A fraction of a second's wait and he whipped his head down with a burst of super-speed, felt the passage of the swiping hand over the back of his neck, and his gunblade lashed backward and upward.

Jungle Agta threw himself out of the cloud back-first, a bleeding wound on his broad face, a gash in his wide-brimmed hat.

Seeing the sudden reverse, Naked Zuma whistled. Two specially-bred serpents left their symbiotic nests inside his body, rearing up behind each shoulder, and sunk their fangs into his neck.

Edge heard the pop of dislocating bones just as he stepped out of the dispersing smoke. He did a double take at the dwarf's swelling body and grotesquely bulging veins. He was still no giant, but amounted to a swarthy colossus almost as wide as he was tall.

Leaping over to the wrecked bakery, Naked Zuma lifted a metal shelf in each hand and hefted them menacingly, dislodging squashed buns. At the whistle of his movements, snakes left their aimless perches and slithered en masse onto his improvised weapons, covering them in a layer of bright and deadly scales. Edge raised his remaining gunblade in invitation. His remaining opponent charged.

Great hands seized his arms from behind. Edge twisted his body and pitched the giant off his feet, into the path of the charging hulk-dwarf. The latter was forced to pull himself to a stop, feet skidding. Jungle Agta realized that his strength may not be his opponent's equal. Still, he did not relinquish his grip, forcing Edge into an awkward lock with his sheer mass and momentum. Edge crouched low to find more leverage and managed to tear one arm free. Naked Zuma circled the two warily.

"<Enough.>" Said Gringo Honasan, stepping out of a nearby door. Men in dark suits and bulletproof vests followed him, pointing rifles at the outnumbered mercenary. "Jungle Agta. Naked Zuma. Disengage." The giant let go and bounded away, and the hulk-dwarf threw down his improvised weapons and started to shrink back to his usual size.

Edge holstered his gunblade in reply. He took off his sunglasses and left them hanging over the back of his head. "<I'm guessing we've moved on to the negotiation stage.>"


"<You almost had me at the ropes there while your voodoo was on. As a matter of abstract interest, may I asked what happened? Your mage overloaded?>"

"<Something like that.>" Honasan replied, face impassive.

"<Huh well, with the voodoo you had a chance.>" Edge commented. "<Now what? You want me to offer you anything you can use to defeat my employer, or otherwise you'll start trying to kill me again? That's going to be a difficult deal. Firstly, You won't find me very helpful in that regard. Secondly, you'll try, but you'll fail. Mind if I smoke?>" Edge reached into his suit jacket.

There was a muzzle flash from an upper-storey window as a paramilitary sniper opened fire.

Edge's profile was suddenly a fraction lower, and his arm was a blur that raised a wave of dust and smoke. The monomolecular playing card cleaved into the descending bullet point-first and split it in half even as its own structure disintegrated under the impact. The two halves pinged near Edge's feet. Then came the crack of the shot itself.

"<I believe you have demonstrated your point clearly enough.>" Honasan concluded. "<Then we, who are this nation's penultimate line of defence, can only appeal to your sense of honour. We implore you to step back from the brink of this abyss of atrocity. We need your aid in forestalling a great calamity that you have helped bring into being. We only ask you to repay us in this, out of human decency if nothing else.>"

"<It would rather seem that neither of us are qualified to speak of human decency. You are people who refuse to let yourselves out of the dark for fear of the disapproval of the sun. I am but a sleepwalker wandering the eternal night. Our paths just happened to cross, that is all."> Edge smiled without humour. "<That said, I don't think we are entirely moving at cross-purposes.>"

"<You have already defected from your cause?>" Honasan asked, an involuntary sneer crossing his lips.

Edge raised an eyebrow. "<Mr. Senator, I am a mercenary. My cause is entirely negotiable. There does exist what is known in my field as professional integrity, but you are right to guess that my employer's behaviour has already placed me beyond that.>" He threw up a hand, causing Honasan's bodyguards to tense. "<Let me be honest with you. Darkness was already as good as ditched. I don't think he's noticed yet, what with being preoccupied with entertaining your ex-president. You interrupted me just as I was in the process of skeddadling, which is just our luck, I guess. But as a matter of honest disclosure, I don't think I can help you. Our employer set the whole act in motion, not us. He wouldn't have needed us to help him with his grand words and...gestures. We entertained him by doing his errands, nothing more.>" Edge's expression unfocused and focused. "<Ooh. I'm getting to betray him and kvetch about him at the same time. You have no idea how good this feels.>"

"<Do you expect me to believe that you two only played vultures in the demon's wake?>" Honasan demanded.

"<Do I look like I can summon dragons or cover the city with shadow constructs?>" Edge snorted. "<We tagged along for incentives that seem rather insignificant in retrospect, but that's neither here nor there. Aren't you wasting your time with me with that heavy beating your, hmm, national historical heritage of yours is taking?>"

"<The situation is well at hand.>" Honasan said testily.

"<I hope you didn't really bury your Heart of Darkness under that monument. That would be insulting the intelligences of everyone present.>"

Honasan raised a black walkie-talkie. "<We don't need you worrying on our account. The demon will never get its hands on our soul while we can still do something about it.>"

Edge walked over to his demon bike, which was lying inexplicably intact, and bent down to inspect it as though he weren't totally surrounded by freak squads and gunmen, appreciating the motions of his perfectly functional leg. "<I'd love to stick around and see what you plan to do when my boss finally discovers that his beloved heart isn't where your boss said it was. But if I actually did I'd have to check my volitional centers for malfunctions.>" Satisfied as to his mount's condition, he flipped it upright.

"<I have nothing against your country, really.>" Edge turned, something resembling contrition on his face. "<Unforeseen exigencies of the job do result in all kinds of misunderstandings. Thanks for all the scenario ideas, though.>" He brushed some dead snakes off his bike and mounted it. "<Hey, you don't have to stand around. I'm already doing this much for you by taking myself out of the picture. Go! Go make your last stand or whatever. I'd wish you luck too, but that would be going a bit too far.>"

He paused, took out his phone and pocketed it again. "<One more thing. If you bump into the other mercenary, tell the fucker to call back.>" With that, he put on his sunglasses and rode off as coolly as the narrow, blown-up street allowed. He had forgotten to turn off the automatic speed limiters.

Jungle Agta rose in a long, deliberate motion, almost shaking off the commando who was tending to the wound on his face.

"No." Honasan said. "He is no longer a threat. He has laid down his duty and surrendered to our determination. Let the army cordons deal with him. Our target may have kept his life so far, but we have won this battle." His face twisted, and he wrenched his eyes away from the vanishing figure as it turned a corner. "Let's move!" He shouted at his surviving freaks and paramilitaries. "We still have another battle to fight!"

To be continued...
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

Coming NEVER

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Shroom Man 777
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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Wed Jul 11, 2012 12:56 pm

That was a ridiculous boss fight, and kudos to the PYTHON UNIT for putting up a great fight. Man, when you make freak squads, you make freak squads.

"Sometimes Shroomy I wonder if your imagination actually counts as some sort of war crime." - FROD

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Ford Prefect » Thu Jul 12, 2012 10:13 am

If Edge's opponents had the kind of magical firepower to induce trances on him, it wasn't inconceivable that they could piss into his coffee at a distance – and unseen. But for what purpose? And how was it connected to the sudden suicide Morlock?

The things you have to worry about in the Philippines.

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Invictus » Thu Aug 09, 2012 6:32 pm

A bit further out, but still in Manila – I know, bear with us, folks

"Hey what's up Luiz?" Rey snapped, one hand clamping his new phone to his ear and his other hand elbow-deep in monster ichor. "Yeah, I got a bit caught up in punching all these monsters that were running around. They're everywhere! It's like a whole goddamn safari out here, you know? Like that time in Cebu, except less disgusting." He hopped over the slicing talons of a scytheowl and kicked it in the face so hard that its face flew off. "I didn't hear your call! Must be problems with the reception, you know? What? It might be all the chaos! It might be interference from all the magic floating around, like in that movie. All I'm suggesting is that it's not my fault." He caught a lunging brass centipede by the mandibles and crushed its head, scattering crystalline eye-facets everywhere. "Yeah, I heard about Camp Crame from a policeman! Leaves me as the final line of defence eh? That's the way I like it! Say what? A dragon has appeared at Rizal Park? That's obviously the boss monster! Leave it to me!" He picked up a thrashing hellhound one-handed and threw it through a gelatinous shadow giant, which exploded into a mass of goo. "Wait, which way is Rizal Park again? Never mind, I've saved a couple of people who are still around and I can always ask..."

Suddenly he felt it again, a pulse of that unpleasant black magic that he was getting more and more sensitive for. At the same time, every shadow monster in the vicinity perked up in unison and started skittering, loping, striding and otherwise heading towards the same direction.

Rey looked in that direction. Further north along the waterfront, the metropolitan skyline was aglow with fire, and a great unfurling column of magic had started to stain the sky with cinder and smoke. He tilted his head back against the phone. "Okay, don't tell me. I think I can figure this one out myself."

He hung up the call, shouted "I'll be back, good citizens! REY AWAY!" into the general vicinity and super-ran away.

This immediately brought to his attention one drawback of running with his super-speed instead of jumping around with his super-strength, even though it was technically faster – he had to follow the layout of the streets. And doing that meant not travelling in the direction he wanted to go most of the time. Now Rey knew he wasn't the best at directions. He didn't have the kind of super-memory to go with his super-senses that let him memorize a whole city like an inner atlas, unlike some of those fancy foreign superheroes. He wasn't sure if he could do that with a city as haphazardly planned as Manila even if he did. But Rey was a new man, a man on a mission, and he wasn't about to be deterred by such a conundrum. He was going to do something totally drastic and brilliant, like Alexander the Great on the Kobayashi Maru.

He tried chasing down a shadow monster, jumping onto its back and let it take him to his destination. But all they did was to buck and thrash and try to turn around and fight him, and after a few failed attempts his sense of direction just grew even more messed up. It was also kind of stupid-looking with all those civilians still around. This solution was definitely ingenious and masculine, but it was simply not the right occasion and regrettably had to be filed away for now, Rey reflected.

Hot damn, he was reflecting stuff now, Rey thought. He was just rising and rising to meet this crisis, wasn't he?

Riding the revelatory high, Rey came up with an even more brilliant solution to his navigation problem. With his invulnerability, he could just fix his direction and run straight through anything that got in his way! Yeah!

"Gangway! Excuse me!" He crowed as he crashed through the glass wall of a fashion boutique. Attempting to punch a rack of women's clothes aside was a slightly suboptimal solution, but he rallied by snagging a well-dressed dummy as he sped past and throwing it through a door in front of him so he didn't have to open it. Time saved!

As he overtook the falling splinters of the door, Rey realized too late that it led into the store's merchandise-stuffed backroom! Roaring a swearword, he lowered his head and ploughed into the mass of shelves and bagged clothing. At the back of the store, the wall exploded outwards in a storm of crumpled fabric as Rey powered through it.

Now he was inside a shopping mall, huddled pedestrians staring at him with wild eyes. "Excuse me! Superhero coming through!" He shouted at them, shooing them aside far too slowly with frantic gestures even as he tried to say the right lines he vaguely remembered from American TV shows that made this kind of thing okay. But he couldn't slow down, he knew. Slowing down in an indoor space would risk him losing his bearings even more. And a few people getting trampled with super-speed was a price worth paying for saving his country in time. So that was what he did.

As they crunched under him, Rey finally understood what it meant to be a hard man making hard decisions.

Nevertheless, he was secretly relieved that the mall had an exit in the right direction, which he smashed through chin-first before the automatic doors could fully open.

Back into the streets again, and Rey accelerated. It was all suburbia as far as the eye could see, a dusty expanse of squat, square houses broken by the occasional snaggled utility pole. Rey leapt lightly onto the first house, ran across the roof and easily hopped the gap to the next. He made good time as he jumped over walls festooned with barbed wire and broken glass, avoided pits of snapping crocodiles (cool idea, he thought, he ought to get one himself) smashed through racks of drying laundry, and dodged tangled power lines he could see coming from a mile away (except the first ones he tried to flying karate-chop thorough, which wasn't the best idea).

Past the suburb the terrain grew higher, genteel houses giving way to grimy industrial buildings. Rey was feeling more confident with his moves now, and instead of leaping from roof to roof he started bounding from wall to wall between the buildings, which he found was plenty possible as long as he used a bit of force to hammer footholds into said walls. This approach meant he sometimes accidentally kicked through a window and crashed into the building (and had to waste valuable time giving autographs to the people inside), but such opportunities to reinforce his fanclub paid well by raising his morale for the upcoming fight. It reminded him that he was fighting for the people.

A few more jumps and he was in downtown Manila, which Rey could tell because the buildings he was kicking holes in looked flashier and more expensive. Rey looked down and could see a distressing concentration of monsters in the street, chasing people in the same direction he was going. That crazy demon guy was obviously trying to concentrate lots of people in one place, where he could do whatever nefarious shit he was going to do to them.

Except he knew exactly what kind of nefarious shit the crazy demon guy was going to do.

A flash of burning skies and melting trees, and Rey's eyes narrowed. He could already pick up the roars and the wingbeats with his super-hearing, and the first tendrils of a new smell over the city was already horribly familiar to him. He wasn't about to let that happen again, and this time he wasn't going to be too late to put a stop to it. The boss monster was a dragon, Luiz had said. Well Rey was a super-fucking-hero.

Vaulting past the last skyscraper, Rey super-leapt into view of Rizal Park.

The glow and the blast of heat hit his face at once, and the smell was like someone was having the world's biggest barbecue party. Except the guests were also the barbecue.

Suppressing the urge to gag, Rey beheld the massive, winged form that roosted over the semi-molten ruins of one of the many monuments Rizal Park had. Rey couldn't recognize it amidst the flames, but it looked like one of the more important ones. But that really wasn't the point right now. The dragon – and Rey got the uncanny impression that it was the most dragon-y dragon that he had ever seen, even including from movies – was busy spitting fire at the people in the plaza herded there by the other monsters.

There was no sign of Darkness, but that wasn't what mattered either. Rey didn't know why the demon sent a dragon to carry out its mass murder ritual, but he guessed he could always find out after he took his new set of priorities out for a drive.

Espying movement in the smoke, Firewing the Destructor raised its massive, spiked head only for Rey Quirino to fall like a meteorite and elbow-drop it right between the eyes. The dragon's sinuous neck snapped downwards, and sheer surprise made it lose its grip on the Rizal Monument, scrabbling obsidian claws leaving glowing gashes on its sides. Then, with awful majesty, man and creature crashed to the ground in a wave of billowing flame.

Rey got up faster than his ponderous opponent. Screaming incoherently, he ran over to the supine dragon and interrupted its recovery with a kick in the neck, sending its head crashing back into the bulk of the monument. Chunks of hot stone showered from above, dislodged by the dragon's horns.

Ash of an origin that didn't bear thinking about tumbling from his costume, Rey scrambled up the side of Firewing's jaw. He gripped a fistful of the monster's upper lip with all his might and slammed his foot into its fearsome array of fangs.

The crash was even louder as the ground stove inwards into a massive crater, half of Firewing's head embedded into its epicentre. The Rizal Monument wobbled drunkenly and settled into a tilt, and the dragon's tail thrashed madly.

Rey stomped again, driving his opponent's head against the crush-packed and fire-baked ground with seismic force. Statues across Rizal Park wobbled and shed rust. A mammoth fang came loose, caving from its gum-socket with a squirt of tarry blood.

Firewing's head jerked up despite the immense pressure, almost wrenching itself free of the crater. Wingbeat after titanic wingbeat slammed against the ground for purchase in the heat-thinned air. Then its jaws parted beneath Rey's dangling feet, and a deafening shriek issued from between its teeth. The heat of it scorched Rey, and the shock of it nearly dislodged him.

For the first time since its spirit was awoken from the sleep of aeons, Firewing the Destructor knew injury. It did not relish this knowledge.

The dragon's body thrashed and jerked as Rey renewed his buffet of indiscriminate blows against its trapped head. Sparks flew. Scales cracked under bleeding knuckles. The thumping rhythm of a massive skull rebounding again and again against the broken concrete rang across the plaza.

Rey was rapt in his violence, his heady triumph-

Great talons closed around him from behind.

Rey was flung off his exalted perch, hands trailing steam and blood. He flopped end over end into the burnt-out trees next to the plaza as Firewing yanked itself from the ground in a shower of concrete shards. The ancient monster shook its head and powered into the air, every movement rippling in heat-haze after-images. Its cabochon eyes blazed with wrathful light, and like twin beacons they roved.

It felt a mighty yank on its tail as Rey rushed behind it with super-speed and tried to drag it back to the ground.

Firewing's ascent faltered, as muscles that still ached with newfound vitality found themselves lock in battle with the metahuman strength and leverage of the superhero. The dragon's head turned to glare at the tiny figure who was heaving away at its tail with all his worth.

Then the apparition seemed to draw back for an instant, and issued forth a torrent of white fire. The bodies, trees and earth that were caught in its path turned to vapour in an instant, brief black streaks in the incandescent stream. The screaming torrent did not slow until it carved its way through the park and slammed against a skyscraper in a boiling explosion, leaving naught but a gaping hole from which stubs of girder protruded.

Firewing felt the pressure on its tail fade. Satisfied, it boosted higher into the air, even as around it streams of smoke and cinder whipped like ghosts...

"Missed!" Rey couldn't resist shouting in the middle for a stealthy leap for Firewing's back.

Firewing's spiked tail arced like a morningstar and smacked Rey out of the air.

He smacked into what was left of the Rizal Monument, knocking half of it off.

"I'll give you that one." Rey managed as the airborne dragon slowly wheeled to face him. He got up painfully, and finally noticed that his hands were bleeding.

He was bleeding, what the hell. Superheroes didn't bleed. Not unless they were having the serious hurt put on them by the ultimate big bad guy in a really dramatic final battle. But Rey hadn't even gotten started on the stupid dragon yet. The dragon wasn't even the final boss.

But his hands were hurting. Now that he had finally slowed down to notice, all the dragon fire and shit around him was hot in a way he didn't remember fire being since he was a kid. The dragon could hurt him, just like Darkness, and without needing any fancy magic shit either.

Suddenly, there was a dry lump in Rey's throat. His legs didn't seem to want to move any more. And from the inferno, his ears seemed to catch the mocking laugher of his demonic adversary.

Rey went still, even as shadow monsters emerged from the roiling flames and clambered up the broken monolith to interdict him, even as two monstrous eyes fixed him with a gaze of infinite enmity.

The fucker was watching him, wasn't he. Putting some stupidly deadly dragon in his way so Rey couldn't even get to him. So Rey would have to waste all his blood bleeding all over some fucking extinct animal instead of saving the day and the country like he's supposed to. It wasn't fair. Darkness wasn't supposed to pull another shittingly gigantic obstacle out of his grotesquely overmuscled behind instead of showing his face so it Rey could punch it up some.

"What happened to 'nemesis', huh?" Rey shouted out loud as white fire welled between the dragon's jaws. Hellhounds leapt over the top of the rubble to pounce upon him, and he swatted them aside. Shadow giants reached up with the long arms to grasp him, and he shook them off. More of them came to hold him down, to immobilize him.

Was this all the bravado amounted to? Was this it for the Hero of the Philippines? Did he fight all the way to a recognizable landmark right at the heart of Rizal Park – which was a perfect final showdown location, by the way – just to be turned into crispy metahuman barbecue? Did all his personal growth give him nothing but a pair of fists that couldn't even punch a magical dragon without bleeding? Was Darkness going to watch the whole thing from on high without showing his face even once to the one guy he had always wanted dead? The bits of Rey Quirino's brain that were still coherent (and still working at super-speed) contemplated his mortality.

No, he wasn't going to die here. Bless his limited imagination, but if he couldn't come up with an end that sounded good, then it simply wasn't happening.

"Is this all you got?" Shadow monsters scattered before his outpouring of fury, tumbling down in an avalanche of black bodies. Rey stood his ground atop the half-wrecked monument, raised his fists and stared down Firewing. Yeah, let's get outraged. He was good at that, if nothing else.

"Sige! Subukin n'yo kung kaya n'yo ba ko!" He screamed into the scalding air of the burning plaza, as the dragon's flame-filled mouth started to widen.

A trail of smoke whistled over his shoulder. The rocket-propelled grenade sailed into Firewing's mouth and struck the building gout of flame in its gullet, blowing it asunder.

Rey shielded his eyes from the explosion that erupted from the dragon's maw, blasting the gargantuan beast backwards and knocking him off the broken monument as well. He landed on his back, his head hitting the stone of the plaza mere feet away from the bumper of an idling jeepney.

"<He's blinking! Told you he'll be okay.>" A voice was saying, somewhere outside his field of vision.

Rey rolled himself over and looked up at the two men in the jeepney. The one in the driver's seat was a dark-skinned fellow in khaki fatigues and a tactical vest with a rifle slung over his shoulder. The one standing in the back seat and gesticulating wildly with an unloaded RPG launcher looked American...

...but was neither tall nor athletic. A Hawaiian shirt poorly concealed a growing gut. Messy brown hair and stubble did not help the picture. Oddly, Rey felt an instant camaraderie for that man, if only because of how his last few encounters with Americans who were tall and athletic had turned out.

"<Right in the kisser, Akinwale!>" He told the black man.

"<Indeed, Mister Baylor.>" The driver replied.

"<I feel that you are making a completely mockery of my epic battle here.>" Rey muttered.

"<Don't worry man, we don't mean to.>" The slobbish American said extravagantly as he turned his attention on Rey. "<It's simply not often that a roving arms dealer and his trusty bodyguard hop into a conveniently parked Jeep, drive through a city full of monsters, and run into a superhero fighting a dragon. I believe it's normal to want to help out a bit when you just happen to bring a lot of firepower with you.>" He tossed aside the spent launcher and lifted a pre-loaded one from somewhere under the back seat of the jeepney. "<I'm John Baylor, by the by. And this is my bodyguard, Akinwale Mango.>"

"<At your service.>" The driver nodded his head.

Rey sprang to his feet, energized by indignation. "<I didn't need any help, thank you very much.>"

Footfalls and wingbeats echoed behind him. He turned and saw that Firewing getting its head blown off in a really ironic fashion by that last explosion would have been far too much to hope for. Rather, it just looked a bit more singed and a lot more angry as it clambered upright.

Rey turned back to the two newcomers. "<I have always appreciated all the assistance I receive from concerned citizens.>" He said thoughtfully. "<Just don't come suing if you get incinerated or something.>"

"<We'll keep that in mind.>" John Baylor set the launcher on his shoulder with practiced ease, aimed through the sight and fired. The RPG sped outwards with a flash of propellant, corkscrewed drunkenly through the air and exploded against one of the dragon's wings, tearing a small hole in it. Firewing roared in response.

"<The dragon can be hurt in the wings! Why didn't I think of that?>" Rey exclaimed.

"<I was aiming for the head, though.>" Baylor replied. "<Good thing I didn't sell this round off before I test-fired it! How 'bout yours, Akinwale?>"

A crack rang out from the front seat of the jeepney and Firewing flinched minutely, and one of its glowing red eyes flickered briefly. "<Can't complain, Mister Baylor.>" Akinwale Mango said, working the bolt on his scoped rifle.

"<Look guys, I appreciate the help. I really do.>" Rey said. A strange feeling was blooming in his chest as he watched the two shoot off some of the inexplicably large amount of munitions they had in their jeepney. "<But I don't think your guns will work quickly enough on that thing.>"

"<I've noticed! Shit!>" Baylor shouted as Firewing advanced through the paltry curtain of firepower to breathe fire at the three of them. Rey threw himself from its path with his super-speed. Mango put his foot down on the accelerator, making the jeepney shoot forward with unexpected grace even as he calmly slung his rifle over his back with his hands. Baylor hunkered down as the jet of flame narrowly missed the speeding vehicle.

Mango put his hands back on the steering wheel and started to navigate the jeepney through the ruined, flame-strewn plaza. "<I don't think we thought this through, Mister Baylor!>"

"<Just shut up and drive.>" Baylor hissed. "<And what happened to the superhero guy? Face on posters everywhere, but where's his face now?>"

Mango pointed. "<He's gone back to fight the dragon.>"

Baylor shaded his eyes and peered through the smoke and the flames. "<Well, braver man than I.>" He turned an eyed an unfired SAW resting in the back seat with a tinge of regret. "<Meanwhile, let's focus on the driving!>"

"<Right you are!>" Mango spun the steering wheel like a man possessed. The jeepney rounded a burning tree on two wheels and sideswiped a scythe-owl which crunched under its tires. "<But this national park, I don't think it's good Jeep country!>"

"<It would be more car-friendly if it weren't for all the monsters and fire and debris!>" Baylor agreed. "<Look out for that...oomph! Nice swerve. I do feel kind of bad about ditching that superhero though. Say, is that him being repeatedly stepped on?>"

"<Can't say, Mister Baylor. My eyes are on the road, metaphorically speaking.>" Mango replied tersely. "<On the other hand, this Jeep does handle better than any Jeep I've ever driven! Even this brutal obstacle course is proving pretty easy to cross. I suggest we take full advantage of this.>"

"<No.>" Baylor said. "<Let's go back and help him.>"

The jeepney swerved to a stop. "<Mister Baylor?>" Mango inquired in the tired tone of a man who knows his employer all too well.

"<You know how back on the dark continent we'd agree not to meddle in a lot of things where two people with an airship and a lot of guns might have done some good? And how we'd agree that we would meddle if the whole thing smelled bad enough, just so we could sleep at night? Well, the stink I have in my nose right now is goddamn unbelievable. Besides, think of the rep if our guns do take that dragon down.>"

Mango sighed. "<Very well, Mister Baylor. You always had a better sense of smell about these things...Whoa!>" He exclaimed as a small, human-like blur bounced off the jeepney's hood.

Meanwhile, it was Rey Quirino's turn to be driven repeatedly into the fire-baked ground. The crashing, reverberating waves of teeth-rattling pain grew bearable as his back started to go numb from the impacts, but the humiliation didn't. Really, to start off curbstomping by a dragon and ending up being the one getting curbstomped. And the dragon wasn't even doing it properly.

Every impact also sent a skein of light flashing behind Rey's eyelids, as though something was being shaken loose from somewhere deep inside his brain. Odd, these mad scribbles. They felt like a hint of something he should remember, a memory of another, equally painful experience...

A curious sound cut through his plight.

A crack rang out somewhere above him, clear and musical over the burning confusion. The pressure of the dragon's claw around Rey's midsection slackened.

Another crack rang out, this time accompanied by the sound of splintering wood, and the claws loosened further. Rey found his vision returning to him.

His super-vision saw what John Baylor and Akinwale Mango saw only as a moving blur: a human shape that leapt and darted about Firewing's head like a stinging insect.

Then as he watched, the phantom produced an aluminium baseball bat – a baseball bat! – out of nowhere, took a huge wind-up and smacked the dragon in the snout with an enormous clang. And as he watched, the dragon reeled as though he himself had punched it.

The bat-wielding figure took the opportunity to swoop down and land another ringing blow against the scales near Firewing's front foot. The claw holding Rey Quirino twitched; with a timely wriggle he slipped out from underneath it.

The first thing Rey did after getting back up was to kick Firewing in the shin. Petty, he knew, but it put him back on the right mental equilibrium to face the mysterious fighter who landed lightly beside him.

To Rey's pleasant surprise, it wasn't some brand-new superhero the corps sprang on him to steal his spotlight. It had a childlike face and a distinctly un-photogenic build, concealed under layers of second-hand clothing, hobo bricolage and general ragamuffinry. Even if the newcomer did save him, there was no way it would hog the spotlight from him.

It tossed aside the badly bent baseball bat in its hand and turned to Rey, eyes glittering.

"You are Rey Quirino." It said, It was half accusation, half confirmation.

Rey nodded mutely. It seemed safe to acknowledge so basic and fundamental a truth.

The stranger – a girl of some sort – produced yet another baseball bat out of nowhere, and raised her free hand. It took a split second for Rey to recognize that she was making a thumbs up.

Then she was flying again, and the whisper of a thousand small voices seemed to follow her.

Rey changed his mind. Even if there were no TV crews around, he still wasn't going to let some crazy flying street kid show him up.

"<Hey!>" Baylor the American shouted as his jeepney pulled up next to him. He was busily reloading all those RPG launchers he fired off earlier. "<Is that someone you know?>"

Rey waved vaguely at the tiny figure who had resumed whacking inconclusively at Firewing. "<Well you know, there are lots of us superheroes in the Philippines. Can't keep track of them all. All doing our part and so on. Who knows when they will just show up and stuff! I have no idea who she is.>"

"<She doesn't look like she is doing much to the monster either.>" Mango observed, as the crack of baseball bats breaking rang across the plaza. "<The young lady looks like she might run out of weapons.>"

"<Let's see if I can interest her in some of ours.>" Baylor hefted his RPG.

"<Like your guns did much before.>" Rey retorted, still rying to work the pain from his back.

"<I didn't see you doing much either, Mr. Superhero!>"

"<It's Rey Quirino.>" Rey said in a tone somewhere between irritation and condescension, the one he always used whenever someone didn't know his name. "<Hero of the Philippines.>"

The nuance of it must have been lost in the general context, because the American just shrugged. "<Haven't heard of you.>" He spotted a shadow giant that looked if it had noticed them through the smoke and blew it into black sludge.

Rey's hackles rose, but then he remembered that his personal growth was supposed to make him the bigger man than everybody else, so he forced his hackles back down. "<Just don't get in the way of my epic battle here, okay? Right now I'm saving a country.>"

"<Whatever chief, it's your country.>" Baylor lowered the smoking launcher and peered at his handiwork. "<Akinwale, do you see anything less magic for us to shoot at? It would be a shame to have lugged all these guns here for nothing...wait, what was that?>"

Rey didn't need to look, because he felt the brief flicker of nausea that surged through him as bolts of orange light started exploding against Firewing's scales, cracking them asunder.

The other flying figure peeled away from the newcomer so quickly that it almost smacked into a tree. Like a shooting star, it arced over the horizon and was gone.

"<It appears like you have everything in hand.>" Deadlight Hollow commented as he fluttered to the ground in his colourless cloak. He gestured, and a glittering aurora of cold light swept out from his hand, reducing the dragon-lit fires around Rey and the jeepney to embers. Firewing itself recoiled indignantly from the sudden manifestation, but seemed hesitant to approach

John Baylor waved at him. "<Deadlight Hollow! Didn't expect to see you here! Now is this a coincidence or what?>"

"<Likewise.>' Deadlight Hollow replied with a sideways glance.

"<Hang on. You know this gay?>" Rey exclaimed at Baylor.

Baylor turned to Deadlight Hollow incredulously. "<You're gay? You never told me!>"

"<An increasingly common misapprehension.>" Deadlight Hollow said flatly. "<And a distraction that never stops reoccurring at the most inappropriate times.>"

"<It's okay, man. I accept you for what you are.>' Baylor consoled. "<Or okay, at least there's finally someone here who might know what the hell is going on. So what the hell is going on here?>"

"<Crazy demon is going around and killing people for ultimate power.>" Rey sniffed. "<Anyone here could have told you that.>"

"<Wait, so the demon is the dragon?>"

"<What? No. The demon is different from the dragon. The dragon's just a boss monster. The demon is like an even more final boss who you haven't even fought yet. And there's also two...>"

"<Rey Quirino is basically correct on this particular level.>" Deadlight Hollow interrupted. "<There are important metaphysical details, but for now they don't matter.>"

The dragon's claw slammed into the shimmering nimbus put up by the demon hunter and tore it open. Deadlight Hollow spun and blasted the offending claw with a barrage of scintillating bolts from his mystically-empowered handguns until it drew back.

"<This semblance is Firewing the Destructor, the last dragon lord to remain on this plane.>" Deadlight Hollow explained hastily as he renewed his ward. "<Fortunately for us, the demon Darkness only succeeded in summoning a small part of its raging essence. This is only a lesser manifestation of the whole creature.>"

"<You don't say.>" Rey said mournfully.

"<In other words, it is so magical that shooting it is not going to work very well?>" Mango asked.

"<The man has it.>" Deadlight Hollow said, straining to keep the dragon off their backs as he exposited. "<I can enchant conventional firearms to be able to harm the beast, and your fists have already proven able to break through its defences. However, I don't think we have the power to strike a fatal blow against unless we can attack the very connection that keeps it material. That part is up to you, Rey.>"

"<Me?>" Rey demanded. "<I've already had a hell of a time punching that thing! What more do you want me to do?>"

"<I don't know.>" Deadlight Hollow admitted. He leapt aside as the dragon hammered a claw into where he was, nearly flipping the jeepney. Mango barked out a curse and gunned the vehicle away from the rampaging dragon. "<You're the magic man! Think of something!>" Baylor shouted.

Deadlight Hollow muttered a short incantation and gestured at the guns in the jeepney – they started to emit a soft, pearly glow.

"<Magic lights! Neat.>" Baylor said.

"<Rey!>" Deadlight Hollow swooped up alongside the superhero, who was getting really tired of legging it across burning terrain. "<Remember what you are to Darkness! If there's anyone holds the key to unravelling this whole madness, it's you!>"

"<But what do I do?>" Rey shouted back. "<It's one thing to get like, proper heroic resolve when things were still sorta in the air, but it's another thing to figure out how to actually kill a dragon with my bare hands!>" He held up said hands. "<Look! My hands are bleeding!>"

"<There should be a way.>" Deadlight Hollow insisted. "<Darkness may have called up obstacles beyond your imagining, but this is not solely Darkness' quest! This is also your country's story, and it has given you real power to succeed! Tap into your heritage! Your pride!>"

"<So you expect me to have retroactively paid attention at school now?>" Rey demanded.

"<You are Filipino! It should be a part of you whether you are aware of it or not.>" Deadlight Hollow insisted. "<I try not to convince people with pure speculation, but I have little else to go on.>"

He turned his head at some variation in the staccato of roars and explosions. "<I need to go back to help Baylor.>" The flying gunslinger summoned his cloak and broke off from Rey.

"<Wait!>" Rey shouted. He suddenly realized that Firewing wasn't paying attention to him any more now that he had almost sprinted the length of the park, and slowed down to a jog.

A solemn bronze figure appeared before him, looming out of the smoke.

"Oh, it's just the Statue of the Sentinel of Freedom." Rey said aloud. He'd done enough photo ops around Metro Manila to recognize this one. The statue was of some tribal guy with a sword who was renowned as the first Hero of the Philippines. Luiz liked to point that out every time they saw it, presumably for his edification. Rey never understood why he did it. It's not like he didn't have people to have book smarts instead of him.

Hang on, there was also a statue like that in Cebu City. The senator mentioned that on the chopper ride. Both were statues of the same guy. Lapu-Lapu.

And as soon as Rey made that connection, another connection sprang forth in his mind and touched home. All those strange branching lights he had seen between bouts of wakefulness finally coalesced into an image. He suddenly knew what he had been gifted.

He heard the sound of something landing lightly behind him. "<Hey Deadlight, I think I know...> Oh, you're the flying kid from earlier."

The flying kid from earlier walked up to him silently and pressed a small plastic bottle into his hands. "Here. So the O.K. Kid gifts you for your spirit quest."

"I don't think this is what I had in mind...wait, who are you? How come I've never heard of you?"

The fey girl-child looked up at him with something like reproach in her eyes. "Guards those not seen, not those not deserving."

"Uh, okay. I'll pretend you said something meaningful." Rey looked at the bottle, unscrewed it and took a sniff. "This is cough syrup!"

"It is cough syrup." The O.K. Kid stated, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Rey looked at her and then back at the statue. "Wait, are you meaning that I need to get high to do this?"

"Yes. You need to." She replied, as one would when explaining basic things to a child. "<There are worse things than demons here. I go, but for the smiles of children.>" She gave Rey another thumbs-up and flew back into the fray, leaving him alone with the bottle.

"Oh whatever, it's not like I have a better idea." Rey muttered as soon as he felt that the weird druggie kid was out of earshot. He lifted his head and knocked back the bottle, quickly inhaling its syrupy contents with his super-breath. The sickly sweet taste made him feel briefly nostalgic.

It kicked in immediately. This definitely wasn't regular cough syrup, Rey thought light-headedly. The ground seemed to drift away and the fire became a rustling tableau of flat shapes. The sky warped, distances shrunk and his consciousness expanded. The very air crackled.

Rey perceived them then, the invisible threads of power that permeated his motherland. It was a bolt of lightning connecting his feet to the earth. It was everything thrumming with the same energetic vibration. It was the web of consequence, the beat of a million hearts. It had nursed him all along, and he knew it not.

It was People Power.

Before him, the solemn statue of Lapu-Lapu came alive, the power of the country igniting a spark of awareness in its blank metal eyes. It raised a sculpted arm and pointed at the direction of its distant brother.

Rey started walking. The leagues opened beneath every step. Buildings rushed by, then whole towns and forests. The clouds stretched into thin lines in the sky.

Very soon, Rey hit the sea. With the ineffable certainty of dream-logic, he knew he didn't have to stop at all. Because a line of grey dugong bobbed up from the water like stepping stones, and he crossed the inland seas on their bellies, past islands big and small until he set foot on the fair isle of Cebu again.

Rey pushed on, high on drugs and duty.

The grey streets of Cebu City went past in a blur, its urban blight blessedly indistinct on the spiritual plane. He was getting close now. All around him, the vibrating pulses of power grew brighter and denser to they too converged on his destination.

And there it was, on a plinth overlooking the sea. While the statue in Manila rested in stately repose, the pose of Lapu-Lapu here was alert, ever ready to face any perfidious foreigners who sought to dirty the country's shores. Yes, this statue was the one Rey needed.

Fog rolled away from the statue as Rey approached it. The power to save his country hinged on the First Hero of the Philippines. But how?

Did the spirit of the nation expect him to beat the dragon to death with the statue? It had to be more than that. The collective unconsciousness of the whole country couldn't have gone to so much trouble guiding him though the spirit plane just so he could beat Firewing to death with a more authentic statue.

The naked chieftain dude is supposed to be his predecessor, isn't he? Maybe he has waited for however many centuries to pass some kind of legacy to the current Hero of the Philippines. An extra special magical gift that would finally make Rey awesome enough to handle to crisis at hand. Rey nodded at this train of thought. Yes, this seemed believable enough. He'd seen those movies.

But it wasn't like the statue was animating itself to give him anything. The threads of power swirled expectantly all around them, but none of them were leading into the statue itself. Maybe it was the final test. Rey had to make sure.

"Hey, Cory." The words left his lips. "Are you still with me?"

"I'm around." An insubstantial voice answered. "Here, I have more strength to converse."

Rey nodded towards the statue. "That guy. Is he...you know, still around? Like you?"

There was a slight pause before the holy ghost gave her answer. "I don't think so."


Somehow, he perceived the invisible shrug. "Because he was a pagan, I guess."

More gears clicked together in Rey's mind. "Good. Don't need some savage in a grass skirt showing me up." Rey clambered up the pedestal of the stature, which remained inanimate. He reached up and grabbed the wickedly curved, split-hilted sword that the bronze chieftain held in readiness, and snapped it off. "And I definite don't need another invisible voice bitching at me for doing this, no offence meant."

"Rey?" Cory's voice asked.

Rey shushed the invisible voice. "I'm concentrating."

It was like playing a Rubik's Cube, except the rotating bits were all complicated and invisible and he had to work them with fingers he never knew he had before, but he could do it. He had been staring at the instructions all along.

A soft shimmer enveloped the bronze replica of the sword with bits of severed hand still attached to it. Then, the bronze slid off it like snowflakes. What was left was a long, rectangular object in Rey's hands.

Rey opened his hand and flicked. The object split along its length, one half-handle swinging around a perfectly oiled hinge, and Rey caught it with his thumb as his hand closed again. A three-foot blade clicked into place.

"And Bob's your viola." Rey whispered.

It was a supersized butterfly knife. A butterfly sword. The perfect thing to slay a dragon with.

It was a rousing success, this spirit quest. Rey ought to be heading back to Manila right now to finish the fight, but he simply had to pause for a bit to admire the beauty of his handiwork.

In his hand he held eternal glory. It was the mark of heroes, manifest in the form of the king of all Philippine weapons. It was the First Balisong, the very instrument with which Lapu-Lapu personally struck the head off the shoulders of Ferdinand Magellan, that perfidious Spaniard.

Sure, historians would dispute the veracity of such a feat, but what do historians know of the deeper truths beneath the shape of things? Rey felt the truth of it in his heart, and that was what really mattered.

Prize in hand, Rey sprang back on the path of leagues, and dashed across the bridge of dugongs.

To meet his destiny.

He woke up draped across the back of Baylor's jeepney as it sped precariously through the burning plaza. "Whuh-"

“<What the hell, man!>” Baylor in his lurid, ash-streaked Hawaiian shirt demanded as Rey jerked spasmodically. “<I thought you had gone off to fight the dragon until Deadlight Hollow sent us to fetch you. We didn’t expect to find you drooling in front of a statue in the middle of nowhere!>”

“<I was...spirit questing! Yeah!>” Rey protested.

Baylor raised an eyebrow.

“<Really! The kid made me drink some cough syrup and then I went back to Cebu for...>” Rey felt the weight in his hand and brought it up, almost whacking Baylor in the face. “<...This!>”

“<Assuming that you did get that...thing out of your dream quest thingie, I still don’t see how it would help.>” The arms dealer did not look like he recognized the deadly potential within the folded form of the legendary First Balisong. How ignorant, Rey thought.

He flicked out the gleaming blade as though it was second nature. Baylor flinched aside as it opened a gash into the bodywork. “<Careful, man! The Jeep isn’t even mine!>”

“<So-rry.>” Rey said, all high ground lost.

“<Save your bickering for later, gentlemen!>” Mango shouted. “<We’re approaching the dragon!>”

Baylor still looked distinctly unimpressed as he screwed a glowing warhead onto his trusty launcher. “<I'll admit, I’m no stranger to magic. I’ve seen great spiders battle demon elephants. I’ve seen men end famines by feasting on the brains of psychic albinos. Still, let’s hope whatever magic in that gussied-up switchblade of yours works on a dragon, eh?>”

The three men and the jeepney hurtled into the battlefield.

Firewing was wounded. This was obvious enough. Once-symmetrical arrangements of scales were chipped and shattered, and glowing, lava-like blood trickled between them in places. The dragon flapped erratically from direction to direction, seemingly no longer interested in giving battle to the two flying figures who circled around it. Still, it noticed the oncoming vehicle and started to flap its wings even more rapidly.

“<See that crater near the eye? I shot that one...hey, it’s flying away! Akinwale! Gun the thing!>”

“<You mean my rifle, or the gas?>” Mango asked calmly.

“<How about both?!>”

“<I’ll try, Mister Baylor. But I owe you nothing if the Jeep flips over and we all die embarrassingly, okay?>”

“<Enough talk! I’ll send it to hell right now!>” Rey cried. “<Rarrgghhh!>” He stood up and super-leapt upwards right off the jeepney, lifting its front wheels off the ground with the enormous reaction force and almost catapulting Akinwale Mango out of the driver's seat.

But Firewing was gaining altitude rapidly. Rey's great arcing jump couldn't get him close enough to even nicking range with his wildly flailing sword before gravity dashed him to the ground.

Deadlight Hollow landed next to the new crater. "<Points for intimidation, I guess.>"

"<I can't jump high enough!>" Rey cried, sitting up in the bottom of the crater.

"<Wait, Firewing is not retreating.>" Deadlight Hollow said, looking up at the star-like spark that was building deep inside the dragon's throat. "<I think it has finally tired of us.>"

"<How big is the blast radius gonna be?>" Baylor asked, pulling up.

"<My estimate is 'huge'.>"

"<Ah. You see, I was wondering whether to bother getting out of the way. Or if I should just tell Mr. Superhero here get off his ass here and do something!>"

"<It's Rey Quirino, Hero of the Philippines!>" Rey insisted, getting up. "<And I can't jump that high! It's->"

At that very instant, the O.K. Kid appeared behind Rey and swung her last baseball bat into Rey's buttocks. "Just do it."

Rey shrieked an unmanly cry of pain and surprise as the stroke propelled him upwards like a prospective home run.

"<Good thinking, mysterious kid!>" Baylor grinned. He aimed his RPG at Rey's shrinking figure and fired.

Rey screamed as the enchanted warhead detonated against his ribcage, accelerating him even further upwards.

Once the tears had cleared from his eyes somewhat, Rey saw the blurred shape of Deadlight Hollow flying upwards beside him. "<And what are you going to do?>"

"<A simple spell of momentum transfer. It does hurt a bit though...>" His outstretched finger touched Rey's flailing hand.

Rey felt like his body was being torn apart even as the flying gunslinger was suddenly torn from his sight by a further burst of speed.

Still, he was closing the distance with Firewing, whose jaws were barely containing the building flare of blinding white energy. The smoke columns thinned out and disappeared as he went up and up, and suddenly it was only the two of them about to collide in the clear grey sky.

But all too quickly Rey's momentum started to bleed off, and his adversary was still high above him. Group effort or not, he wasn't going to reach it.

The roar of a motor engine underneath him made him curious enough to twist his body and look.

With all the ease of driving on flat ground, the jeepney that the American was in was flying up at him. In the driver's seat was the translucent outline of Cory's ghost.

At the sight of Rey's open mouth, Cory just called, "Hop on!"

He managed to land both feet on the jeepney's oncoming hood, awkwardly. His knees bent instinctively as the fresh source of acceleration bore him upwards.

"What the hell?" Rey managed.

"Ang Diwata ng Dyipni." Cory said by way of explanation, spectral fingers curled around the steering wheel. "An orphan spirit dwells within this jeepney, granting it supernatural power. More importantly, the spirit is a charitable soul and wants the Philippines to fall under Darkness' sway as much as you do."

"B-but you're like a Catholic force ghost and you're driving it. Aren't diwatas and stuff what priests exorcize?" Rey protested.

"This shows the severity of the situation, Rey. The godly and the pagan have come together to fight the decidedly unholy. Also, don't begrudge that girl-child. She's one of them too, and she's just a bit blunter."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"Welcome her assistance when you need it, Rey. You still...oh dear." Cory looked up as the light from above built to eye-searing levels.

Firewing exhaled, a white jet of pure annihilation.

"Use the First Balisong!" Cory urged as the cascade of energy took up more and more of their field of vision. "Believe in yourself! Ultimately, the dragon is no match for you!"

"Only because I trust you!" Rey shouted back. "Unlike everybody else."

He positioned himself at the front of the flying jeepney and readied the massive butterfly knife before him, point-first.

The greater-than-fire was upon him. He slashed.

The white jet parted like the Red Sea.

For an instant a moving blue line seemed to bisect the entire sky, and Firewing was caught right in the middle of it. The line passed through the dragon, leaving a glowing and perfectly straight scar behind. Firewing's entire body roiled in pain.

"This is it! Jump!" Cory shouted.

Rey super-jumped off the hood of the magic jeepney, which vanished beneath him as it fell.

With a scream, he collided with the iron-hard scales of the dragon blade-first.

With a sure bloodlust, the First Balisong slipped between Firewing's scales and bit flesh.

Still screaming, Rey planted his feet on Firewing's body and started running, dragging his sunken sword with a trail of sparks.

The long wound opened by Rey's run spewed lava-blood and unravelled magic. Firewing the Destructor writhed in its final death-throes, and exploded.

The roof, Manila Hotel

The explosion rattled Fidel Ramos' wheelchair even as it repainted the sky.

"What?" was the only thing that tumbled out of Darkness' mouth. He was a still monolith, his trenchcoat graven, his face petrified. "What?"

Across the inner city, shadow monsters disintegrated. Their mournful baying, humming and clicking faded as the sustaining will of their master faltered.

Ramos chuckled painfully, then went into a fit of coughs. "It seems like the tide has turned against you, Darkness."

Darkness' eyes were still fixed on the dissipating cloud of mana in the sky. "It cannot be. Defeat is impossible. I had written it out of my laws. Yet at this critical juncture..." Came the dazed voice. "When did I sanction this unseemly reverse to take place? The sigil of my ascension was as perfect as could be, moulded from the base material of this country transmuted to significance by mine own desecrations. My destiny is chained and locked, my higher souls crippled and hobbled, and I have made myself made a fugitive to the higher and lower laws both. By my own hand! Yes."

Darkness's words grew in confidence and volume. "I have dedicated all of my being to this grand undertaking. The seals of passage leave me even as I tear out my very bones. The subtleties of the unpainted realm fade from my sight. There is no defeat that can occur without my destiny permitting it to occur. Therefore I must have embarked on a false path that was truncated by its own foolishness. Therefore I must have been corrected. Therefore..."

Darkness' head whipped around so suddenly that the crack of breaking bone was audible in his neck. Yet he didn't seem to notice at all as he fixed Ramos with blazing eyes. "You have deceived me."

"I think you must realize that we have struggled for far longer than the swiftness of your assault suggests." Ramos leaned back into his wheelchair. "At the very moment the desire to possess the Heart of Darkness came into your deranged mind by whatever inexplicable means, our wills have met across the void. We have contended for very long indeed, circling the weighty singularity that is the dark power of the Heart."

"You have deceived me!" Darkness's form boiled upwards. Muscles writhed and groaned to fill in the extra height.

"And perhaps even before that, when I first came into stewardship over the accursed thing." Ramos mused. "You have made yourself the agent of the Heart, and in doing so you have inherited the decades of antagonism I have already expended. Even now, at the eclipse of sanity, every feverish stratagem I have dreamed up during restless nights are manifesting against you. Now isn't that an interesting thought?"

"You have deceived me!" Darkness's shadow lengthened and grew jagged, rearing up like a hydra to violate all perspective.

"Ah, you must have let your excitement gotten the better of you." Ramos explained patiently. "After all, you seek this end, do you not? It has become your sole passion. And at the very end of your path, you grew so impatient that your were tempted to take a short-cut. You decided to reach out of the echo chamber of your own soul and trust the words of another. That was your misstep."

"YOU HAVE DECEIVED ME!" A fell gale streamed from the demon's mouth to dash the words against Ramos' face, part revelation, part accusation.

"You have finally tasted doubt, Darkness. You victory is no longer certain." Ramos' body shifted under his shawl, as though ready to produce something from underneath it.

"Dramatic frisson. I see." Darkness was suddenly icy calm. "A final play from a powerless foe. A false path that leads to the true ladder. This changes nothing."

"On the contrary, did you not say whoever held the Heart held the real power?" Ramos retorted. "For all your power in conflict...a real soldier would have known."

Darkness' eyes widened then.

The demon's hand shot up, just as Ramos gave his withered body a desperate twist. The darkbolt slammed into his empty wheelchair and sent it flying even as he pitched himself over the edge of the roof.

Ramos fell off the Manila Hotel with barely a sound.

As he fell, something worked itself loose from inside of his crumpled suit and tumbled free, obeying forces far greater than mere gravity or aerodynamics. A small metal box.

With an absolute steady hand, Ramos took a detonator from his pocket and pressed it.

The C4 lining in the box completely failed to explode. Instead, a black aura shimmered into life around the object, and its fall began to slow.

Gritting his teeth, Ramos drew his old service revolver, twisted about until he was facing upwards, and took aim at the box.

In his heart, he hoped that the first few shots which did nothing to the box was simply a result of him missing rather than the work of some aura of invulnerability; it soared when he saw it spin suddenly, a dent gouged onto its side.

Then a great black shadow fell over his face. Darkness was swooping down from the edge of the roof himself, his trenchcoat flapping like wings, his arm outstretched.

Ramos tried to ignore both him and the rapidly approaching ground, taking more shots at the falling box. Finally there was a dull 'pok', and a clear bullet hole appeared, leaking fluid. Darkness emitted a howl of anguish, and accelerated.

Ramos wasn't sure if he had any bullets left – he had lost count of the number of cracks that faded from his ears. But he kept aiming with his bad eyes and wasted hands and-

-fell into a net of elastic, not too far from the ground.

He peered upwards at the open window that framed the man with a cowboy hat on his head and a net gun in each hand. "Well shot, Senator Lapid."

"Still got it." The senator tipped his hat and vanished into the building.

There was a rush of footsteps from below. The net dipped and came down, and Ramos found himself bundled up by a rush of harried ex-mil types. "Sir, did you manage to keep it?" Came the urgent voice of Gringo Honasan.

Ramos peered with aching eyes until he found the ex-soldier's moustachioed face. "Alas, we fought a good fight."

Honasan's face hardened, that was all he had time for until a black feather grazed past on his face. He recoiled as though stung.

He turned and looked. Everyone turned and looked at Darkness who had touched down lightly, buoyed by a pair of black-feathered wings that sprouted from his shoulders. He bore the metal box in his hands, reverently. His smile was tranquil.

"Shoot the box!" Ramos croaked out.

The bodyguards levelled their guns and fired. Darkness' smile grew wider as a halo of light sprang from from his brow, wrapping him in eldritch radiance. The bullets pattered and splashed like hot rain before they could get within a meter of him.

One of his wings drew back and issued a single, monstrous beat. The first rank of bodyguards were swept off their feet, their bodies pierced by numerous black feathers. As the rest of Honasan's company recovered from the shockwave, the feathers ignited in black fire which spread along the bodies of the fallen men, and agonizingly they got back to their feet and started shambling towards other bodyguards.

"Suppressive fire! Get FVR out of here!" Honasan shouted. They obeyed the best they could, a backpedalling rearguard opening fire on the reanimated bodies of their former comrades as the survivors formed a phalanx to bundle the former president away. But the bullets were doing little to slow down the burning bodies of Darkness' thralls; one by one, the bodyguards were dragged down.

But then, a human bowling ball smashed into the growing horde, knocking them over like tenpins. Grasping arms fell short as the remaining members of Honasan's retinue finally got clear.

Naked Zuma unfolded himself wordlessly from the pile of pulverized corpses, his body already inflating with venom, and threw himself bodily at the box in Darkness' hands.

Darkness laughed, and gestured.

The dwarf-giant exploded like a water balloon. Hissing venom-blood splattered over the pavement and started to eat into it.

Darkness laughed again, and raised his eyes to see the last of Honasan's band vanish into the trees that formed the border of the still-burning Rizal Park. He tucked his rightful prize under his arm and, wings extended, hovered after them like a phantom.

As he approached the paltry treeline, a long-limbed apparition clambered down from one of them. It wore a wide-brimmed hat with a gash but into it. In its mouth was a smoking cigar.

Darkness glided luxuriantly to a stop. "Another of his little creatures? By what leave do you bar my circle of triumph?"

"By the steel in my bones and the fire in my blood. What more?" Jungle Agta said, and puffed. Bitter billowing smoke enveloped Darkness in an instant. Jungle Agta puffed until his voluminous lungs were pressed flat against his ribcage and his smoke smothered the entire stretch of roads and trees around him and Darkness, but he did not stop puffing. He channelled the entirety of his being through his cigar and into the air. His cheeks sunk. His flesh shrivelled.

Darkness fanned his wings. A gale rose from the ether, whipping the smoke cloud into a caustic storm that swept back into Jungle Agta's face, and then into tattered shreds that dissipated into the oppressive atmosphere.

What was left of Jungle Agta was a bleached skeleton, which toppled and fell apart. A cigar dislodged itself from between hollow jaws and rolled.

However, Ramos and Honasan were gone.

"It is no matter." Darkness said, looking at the box in his hands. "The Heart of Darkness is mine. I have what I had come for. Would it matter if a few mortals are poorly positioned upon the grand stage of my final ascension? Their time will come for them all the same." He pulled open the box, breaking the clasp with a metallic snap, and peered as one would a guilty pleasure. "Yessssssss."

"Yo! Derplord!" He heard a voice call.

"Rey Quirino. You are in time." Darkness turned to meet the jeepney that was thundering towards him. "My time, that is! All your pathetic mortal efforts have been in vain, just as I prophesized! Have you not finally exhausted that mortal tantrum that your kind calls valiance? Have you not seen how little it avails you when you raise your feeble arms against the wheel of destiny? Are you finally ready to lay down and die?"

The jeepney slid gracelessly to a stop. "<Your delusions are persistent, Darkness. You have won nothing yet.>" Deadlight Hollow retorted from the side of the vehicle.

"You are blind to the glory of my triumph! My trail of victories thread the universe itself! They crowd the air like hasty vultures! Why, I can sense that even the bones in your body yearn to be crushed under my feet! But I expect you to be blind, anathema. This stage was never yours."

"Dude, it's mine!" Rey shouted. "Aren't you going to throw down with me?"

"Raise not your blood above your station, Rey Quirino." Darkness sneered. The box in his hands hummed a dark song. "Do not presume that gaining the slimmest awareness of your part in my grand quest entitles you to make assumptions of any importance. Yes, your blood would have smoothed the passage. The sight of your broken body would have cowed the spirit of your servile kind. But what does that matter? The dark heart of your nation is already in my hands! Your people will have no choice to bow before its power! Your part in this play has been made irrelevant!"

Rey cocked his head. "So, you're not going to fight me?"

"I am going to show you the truth!" Darkness crowed. He held the box aloft.

"<What are the chances of me 'n' Mango shooting it right out of his hands?>" John Baylor whispered at Deadlight Hollow.

"<Practically none.>"

"<You're just full of good news.>"

"Behold!" Darkness' voice seemed to reverberate from the sky itself. "The true form of the Dark Heart of the Philippines!" He tore the box in half.

There was a splash of clear yellowish fluid, and the air was filled with the smell of sulphur. Hovering between Darkness' hands was a small, round object. His myriad teeth gleamed.

Rey's super-vision focused. "It can't be." He gasped.

It was a balut.

But it was no ordinary balut, or even a particularly savoury balut, preserved as it was against the ages by no force natural. Half of its mottled eggshell had been peeled off by some prior hand in some grotesque parody of vendor-ready freshness. But it was the foetal contents of the shell that threatened to turn Rey's stomach. From the broken, incomplete shell reared a tiny, bulbous head, and curled beside it were the limb-stubs of the never-will-be-born. But there was no chicken-beak, no unformed wingtips. The clenched things at the end of its forelegs could only be called fists, and the minute, tangled patches of down on its skull could not be mistaken for anything else. And instead of a boil-blinded cataract where its eye should be, what stared back at Rey was fully-formed, twitching minutely in beady spite. It was a blasphemous synthesis of reptilian and mammalian, the distillation of ten thousand lessers.

It was a balut of man.

Giggling faintly, Darkness took the balut in his hands and removed the rest of the shell with spidery fingers. Denuded, its shape was even more obvious and even more revolting. "Do you see now? This is the shape of your sins! This is the fetish of your kingdom come! All your possibilities are contained within this fragile shape. None of your fates can escape its consequence! Yes."

Darkness' aura exploded into a tornado. A column of force twisted into the sky, with him at the eye – his quivering wings, open to their full extent, slowly bore him upwards. Far above him, at the terminus of the tornado, a thundercloud was being poured across the sky.

Deadlight Hollow raised his guns and shot futilely at the spectacle, but even his glowing spell-bullets twisted and were extinguished by the rising gale before they even reached the demon's aura-wall. The his body lurched and he had to hang on as the jeepney started to slide backwards under the assault of the unnatural demon-wind. In the driver's seat, Mango stomped on the accelerator. Four wisps of white smoke formed as the jeepney's wheels spun for traction against the ground.

"<We can't hold out!>" Baylor shouted into the wind.

"Trust in the spirit." The O.K. Kid replied from somewhere in the back.

"<The spirit is willing, but the tires are weak.>" Mango said, leaning over the side of the driver's seat.

"<This is the least of our worries.>" Deadlight Hollow interjected. "<Look!>"

All of them heard the crunch of delicate bones, unnaturally loud even in the storm.

Darkness had taken a bite out of the Heart. His uncountable teeth was reddened by a glaze of blood.

Then he tossed the rest of it into his voluminous mouth, chewed and swallowed.

The tornado erupted into a hurricane, and the spinning wheels of the jeepney left the ground. Rey screamed as he and his party were blown into the air like a gum wrapper.

Two more sets of black-feathered wings erupted from behind Darkness' trenchcoat in a blizzard of feathers. "Yes." Darkness said, spitting bloody saliva. "The power is mine! The power to bend destiny! The power to level the fallen world! The power! THE POWER!"

Thunder rumbled from the inky clouds that was spreading over the sky of Manila. From the gaps in those clouds came glimpses of an alien sky – a starless night darker than space. Beams of darkness shone down from these gaps, bathing Darkness' ascending shape in anti-radiance. And between the new sky and the earth, an unimaginably vast shape was writhing into existence, a thing of many branches and roots.

"Pathetic mortals!" Darkness roared downwards, his voice a city-shaking clarion. Upon his brow, a crown of diamonds sparked. "I hold all your lives in my hands! Be afeared! Be...hmm?"

Strange shapes were cockscrewing at him from the tops of buildings, trailing smoke and rocket flames. They were Morlocks. Morlock missiles on jetpacks.

Darkness caught sight of the old man who was clinging to one of the roofs, wearing nothing but a tactical harness over a loincloth, barking commands into his radio. He clicked his tongues in annoyance. "Mortals!"

He waved his arms. The Morlocks started exploding in mid-air, their explosive vests detonating prematurely. Very soon, the first wave was dead. Then so was the second wave. There was no third wave.

Finally, Darkness turned his attention to their controller and pointed a single finger. Manong Morlock slumped over, his soul deflating like a punctured balloon. "Mortals." Darkness sighed. "Always providing reliable entertainment, but never having a sense of timing themselves. Now, where was I? Ah-"

"Pathetic mortals!" Darkness roared downwards, his voice a city-shaking clarion. Upon his brow, a crown of diamonds sparked. "Be afeared! Be afeared and bow down before the god of death! My final ascension begins!"

To be continued...
Last edited by Invictus on Thu Aug 09, 2012 7:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

Coming NEVER

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Thu Aug 09, 2012 7:29 pm

This is the greatest thing ever. My god man. My god.

"Sometimes Shroomy I wonder if your imagination actually counts as some sort of war crime." - FROD

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Ford Prefect » Mon Aug 13, 2012 1:22 pm

The true identity of the Dark Heart
I can't stop laughing.

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Mon Aug 13, 2012 3:03 pm

It can't be.

"Sometimes Shroomy I wonder if your imagination actually counts as some sort of war crime." - FROD

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Invictus » Tue Aug 14, 2012 12:54 pm

"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

Coming NEVER

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Invictus » Tue Aug 14, 2012 1:31 pm

"I, Darkness Tenebrae, rightful usurper of the Heart of Darkness, do declare my final ascension over the festering agglomeration of dirt and flesh you call the Philippines. Crawl to me, pathetic, mortal, organisms, as I lay my sceptre across your broken backs!"

"Balls!" Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Manny Pacquiao said as dark limbs of some unfathomably huge plant reached down and flipped over his Pajero. "Why am I even in this story?"

"BALLSY!" Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III, President of the Philippines, shouted to his sister, Elena 'Ballsy' Aquino-Cruz. "Get in the Rizaliplane!"

"Isn't that the personal transport of notorious vigilante Jose Rival?" Ballsy shouted incredulously as her brother led her up the lizard-shaped aircraft parked in the abandoned sewer. Above them muffled crashes came from the Malacañan Presidential Palace, which was being slowly torn apart by the mysterious and merciless creepers from the sky. "Why do you even have it here?"

"It was, well, lying arou...no time for questions!" The president shouted back. He shoved her into the passenger compartment and clambered into the cockpit himself, slamming the canopy shut and starting up the engines with disturbing familiarity. "We've got to get out of here first!"

Ballsy rolled her eyes and smoothed down her dress as best she could in the stale-smelling compartment. While a national crisis was always a welcome distraction from one of these horrible social visits to the palace, unpleasant revelations still have these ways of coming out.

In another part of Metro Manila, Rey finally managed to flip the magic jeepney back on its wheels without crushing anyone trapped underneath it. "<Everybody okay?>" He inquired mechanically, as though going through the motions of a ritual that only mattered because it was what he'd seen from movies.

"<Somewhat>" Baylor groaned, too busy nursing a cut on his forehead to notice. He dabbed at it with a silk handkerchief he had stolen off some African warlord. "<We did get tossed pretty far. It's a wonder everyone is okay.>"

"The wheels of the diwata crush only the unjust." The O.K. Kid chided, inexplicably sitting on the pavement nearby.

"<If such cosmic justice applied to the soul of this country.>" Deadlight Hollow retorted, voice filled with despair. "<We've failed. The demon Darkness has done the impossible.>"

"<This seems too bleak of a conclusion. We still have a chance right, Mr. Quirino? In fact, can I call you Rey? It's...oh.>" Baylor faltered when he saw a Rey who was simply standing there dejectedly after turning the jeepney the right side up. "<Or maybe we should wait a bit to gather our spirits first...>"

Something resembling a monstrously thick root landed near the jeepney, crashing through the pavement in a shower of concrete. It bore deeper and deeper into the ground with a hideous scraping sound.

"<I say we start moving.>" Mango heaved himself back into the driver's seat. "<Stuff is coming down from the sky and I don't like it.>"

They piled in (along with all the firearms that had fallen out) and started moving. Dark tendrils were reaching down from the sky, crushing and impaling whatever they touched. The paved veneer of the city itself was perforated, the soil beneath churning up. Fleeing pedestrians were speared and hauled screaming into the air. Skyscrapers toppled as vast bundles of branching roots drove through them, glass windows shattering by the hundreds. Root after gnarled root came down, anchoring and thickening and solidifying.

Baylor tried to trace with his eyes where the roots were coming down from even as he watched them fall and screamed warnings to his furiously steering employee. Their knotted lengths reached far up into the sky, almost to the base of the ominous cloud cover, where they bunched, knotted and converged into some mind-bogglingly huge mass whose greater bulk was still hidden from view...

"<Deadlight Hollow! What the hell am I seeing?>" He took the breath to ask.

Baylor then noticed that the occult gunslinger was also staring at the same sight with his sightless eyes, murmuring to himself. "<The Tree of Anti-Life...The stations of his ascension...>"

"<It's very bad mojo. I get it.>" Baylor tied the bloodstained kerchief around his head like a badass, except badasses didn't tie gold-edged lime-green kerchiefs around their heads. He compensated by sparing a determined glance at the twisting, debris-strewn streets ahead. "<Akinwale, get us to the airship. The whole city's getting torn up. The priority right now is to get as far away as possible.>"

"<You have an airship?>" Rey perked up briefly as Mango drove them towards the edges of Manila, where the downpour of roots grew thinner.

"<Best way to travel the dark continent. Saves on plane tickets, too.>" Baylor replied tersely. "Now hold on tight.>"

They rounded street after inner city street, the jeepney dodging roots and burning cars and flying debris with desperate agility. Above and behind them, the babel-like trunk of a hovering tree had almost completely materialized, its forest of roots strangling the city in a widening circle of destruction. Above ground level, power lines snapped. Below ground level, water pipes breached. Building after building crumbled under their inexorable strength. Fires erupted and smoke spiralled around otherworldly bark.

"<Deadlight Hollow, mang!>" Baylor shook his fellow passenger by the shoulder. "<Right! So the bad guy won. He won even though we killed the dragon. What's next? How local of an apocalypse should we be expecting? Everyone here needs the lowdown, man! We're just running away!>"

"<It was all out of my hands.>" Deadlight Hollow said quietly. "<The very moment Rey Quirino returned from his spirit quest with his blade. He has taken control of his own destiny, a destiny which is now inextricably intertwined with Darkness' and the Philippines'.>" He regarded the semi-catatonic superhero with blind eyes. "<For the moment, he is truly the hero he needs to be.>"

Baylor rolled his eyes. "<So we're screwed?>"

"It wasn't meant to be this way." Rey whispered in his native tongue. "They hadn't shown me this. All these voices in my head...crying out...Argh!" He clutched his head and tried to huddle into a ball. Deadlight Hollow and Baylor looked at each other.

"<Something's wrong with him.> Deadlight Hollow realized. "<It's no mere loss of spirit – his ordeal in the forest ought to have inoculated him of that, unless I sorely misjudged his character.>" He then remembered who he was dealing with and added, "<Which is entirely possible, I hate to say at this juncture.>"

The O.K. Kid shuffled up from some niche in the front seats, between Rey and Mango. She laid a hand on the superhero's knee. "Feedback."

On an impulse, Deadlight Hollow leaned forward in the bouncing jeepney and laid a pale hand over the girl's. The O.K. Kid 's arm twitched as though burned, but she kept her hand in place. After a short while, Deadlight Hollow drew back his hand and she squirmed away gratefully. "<I see now.>" The androgynous gunslinger explained. "<People Power.>"

The phrase rang a small bell in Baylor's geopolitically semi-literate head. "<People Power? Didn't that have something to do with overthrowing an ex-dictator here?>"

"<I wouldn't know. But it would a good name for the immanent force that Rey has connected himself to at this moment. He is, in short, mainlining the soul of the country for the power to defeat Darkness. But other things are riding the connection into him at a raw and unfiltered level. Emotions. Attitudes. Traumas.>" He poked Rey's face experimentally. "<When I advised him to tap into his heritage, I don't think he prepared himself for this.>"

"<Traumas...pain...suffering.>" Baylor mused as he looked back at the devastation. "<Considering what just went down back there, I guess the Darkness demon isn't making his day any easier, huh?>"

"<It was never going to be easy. Now that Darkness has merged its essence with the Heart of Darkness, it has direct control over all of this country's worse natures, magnified by its already immense capacity for inflicting physical suffering. The levels bleed together. And his soul has also been opened fully to this corruptive power. He may well be overcome even before the spirit of this country is broken.>"

"<...No...>" Rey unclenched his teeth slightly. Icy sweat beaded on his face. "<I'm not dead yet. I'm fighting it...but it hurts...there's so much pain...>" He uncoiled his body minutely as his hands twitched and balled into fists. "<...Just give me some time...>"

"<We'll drag it out for ya.>" Baylor said consolingly. "<Akinwale, are we there yet?>"

"<That question is the eternal bedevilment, Mister Baylor!>" Mango shouted as he rounded a corner furiously. "<Those who ask it deserve nothing but...>" He swerved in time before the jeepney could collide headfirst with a four-legged, galloping shape.

"<What the hell, I thought all those monsters went away!>" Baylor hung on as the vehicle almost lost control before some confluence between its driver and its own spirit brought it back to moving in a straight line. "<Hang on, what the hell is that?>" He exclaimed when he saw the steaming carabao with the bloody, shirtless man on its back regain its footing. Somehow, it was keeping up with them, or the magic jeepney had slowed down for it, or something. Baylor didn't really know any more.

"Watch where you're going!" Bolo shook his fist at the jeepney that had suddenly charged out of the deserted intersection. "Don't you people...hey, it's you! The superhero bayot! What are you doing here instead of combating evil which is your duty?"

"<I think the buffalo-riding man knows Rey Quirino.>" Mango whispered to the others.

"<So noted, Akinwale.>" Baylor propped himself up on his seat. "<We apologize deeply!>" He said brightly and with his inimitable explaining-to-natives gesticulations. "<But we are in a hurry and we wouldn't like any trouble! Any more trouble, that is!>"

"You are American!" Bolo pointed out. "Damn Americans! This country isn't yours any more! Why must you hurt our people with demons and disasters! Why are you taking away our (kind of wimpy, but the only one we have) superhero? Release him now!"

Rey stirred briefly at the sound of the tirade. "<It's okay...>" He whispered. "<He's one of ours...>"

"<Sure! It would be great if he knew that!>" Baylor shot back.

"What have you done to Rey Quirino? Why does he look so weak? I might have lost all my guns, but I've still got my carabao and I'm not afraid to use it!" Bolo had coaxed the massive creature next to the jeepney. It tossed its head and its horn rammed into the side of their vehicle with a screech and a shower of sparks.

"<He sounds angry.>" Mango translated. He reached tentatively for his back holster. "<Should I...>"

A baseball bat touched him lightly on the wrist. The O.K. Kid was suddenly standing on the edge of the door, balancing effortlessly between him and the offending carabao. "No need. Synchronicity only, this encounter. No turf battle."

Bolo was taken aback by the sudden appearance of someone who spoke in a comprehensible language, but his surprise quickly gave way to suspicion. "You speak like the city folk, but something's not right about it. Why are you with the Americans?"

"We..." The roar of a motorcycle interrupted her forthright reply. Something was catching up with the jeepney and the carabao.

"<Oh dear. It's one of those two.>" Deadlight Hollow remarked as Chaos rounded the corner on his demon motorcycle. "<I thought they were gone for good.>"

"<What's with him?>" Baylor asked.

"<A hireling in Darkness' employ. Probably regretting his choice of employer now.>"

"<It's not over yet, you cow-riding hick!>" Chaos hollered. His spiky hairdo was singed and festooned with tiny dried fish. "<Get back here so I can get you!>"

"He stinks of demon." The O.K. Kid stated coldly, hefting her baseball bat. "My city's lost, but this blight can go with it."

"No." Bolo said. "This is something I must settle for myself." With a slap, his carabao peeled away from the jeepney in a broad, thundering U-turn. "But I'll be back for you."

"<Did he just threaten us? Did he not notice that we have lots of guns in the jeepney and he doesn't have any? That, in fact, we are the ones with all the guns?>" Baylor said incredulously as the strange man lined up his steed on a collision course with his pursuer's motorcycle.

Deadlight Hollow sat up. "<You should've been around long enough to understand that guns aren't the sole measures of force.>"

"<But...guns!>" Baylor frothed. "<Like, you use guns!>"

The O.K. Kid leaned back down in a huff. "It too is destiny. A knot is untied."

Chaos was shouting incoherently at the top of his voice as his demon motorcycle dove forward, seemingly equally eager. Bolo met the assault with the grim scowl of a man finishing up an unpleasant mission, silent save for the strained groans of his steed. But neither blinked.

The carabao and the motorcycle slammed into each other at full speed, forehead against headlight, horn against handlebar.

Chaos' customized, deluxe-model, Stygian-forged motorcycle flew apart in a cascade of overstressed metal.

"<Of course.>" Deadlight Hollow observed from the back of the rapidly receding jeepney. "<As with the shadow monsters, the integrity of all of Darkness' creatures has lapsed now that the demon is no longer focusing on them. Even with the case of mechanical constructs...>"

Chaos, meanwhile, was catapulted upwards and forwards by the sudden disintegration of his ride (and the lack of safety belts on a motorcycle), and by some miracle of momentum found his trajectory perfectly calculated to plant his face straight into Bolo's callused fist.

He squawked in pain and landed back on the cracked pavement, clutching his face.

"I tire of you." Bolo pronounced from atop his panting but entirely uninjured carabao. He turned and rode off.

Chaos laid on the road for a while, insensate with pain. Eventually, the sound of another roaring motorcycle grew louder and closer, until it stopped.

"<There you are.>" Edge said, putting a foot down on the ground. "<Before I do anything else, let me do a little guesswork first. You weren't following me, got distracted, got into a fight, set something on fire, was blown up at least once, and lost your 'sweet ride'. How correct am I?>"

Chaos, still on the ground, nodded wordlessly.

"<The things you get up to when I don't keep an eye on you.>" Edge concluded. "<Now, get up so we can get the heck out of dodge. Or do you have to be a wuss and make me help you up?>"

Chaos heaved himself up and clambered onto Edge's demon bike. "<You can shut the fuck up for a start.>"

What buildings still remained standing shook with the regular crash of the descending roots. The road trembled like the skin of a vast drum, which the duo felt through the demon bike's increasingly creaky suspension as they sped out of the city.

"<Actually bro, I didn't get blown up at all.>" Chaos made a little grin through bloody teeth, unseen as he hung on at Edge's back. "<You got that one wrong.>"

"<Hmm.>" Was Edge's absent-minded reply as he moved his hands off the handlebars to occasionally flip switches, press buttons and flick at flickering touchscreens, keeping the bike's unnecessarily sophisticated systems functioning. "<But you did get blasted through the air by some force.>"

"<Yeah. That goddamn cow.>" Chaos winced as the bike's wheels rolled over a fallen traffic sign. "<I think my ribs are broken.>" He said plaintively.

"<Whatever you say.>" Edge replied. Then he slipped out of his inner world. "<Wait, what did you say?>"

"<Never mind.>" Chaos sighed, painfully. "<You know bro, all I wanted out of life was a warm stomach of dollar bills and a briefcase full of hookers. You're the one who actually remembers things. So tell me. Why did we even accept this job at the first place?>"

"<I believe,>" Edge replied with some care and concern, enunciating every syllable like a fully pondered conclusion, "<We were pretty drunk at the time.>"

Chaos's expression softened slightly, into something resembling wistfulness. "<Yep, we were.>"


"<You know, if Rey recovers this very moment and leaps back up to put a stop to Darkness and his ascension, this perilous trek would have been a complete waste.>"

"<Nonsense! If he did, he still did get to check out my awesome airship. Right, Rey?>"

"<Will you stop hurrying me?>" Rey groaned. Strength had returned to his voice, but it was still far from steady. "<I know what I'm doing. I'm the only one who knows what I'm doing. It's all incomprehensible higher-dimensional shit swirling around in my head, mang, except I've got a handle on it. I'm not going anywhere and Darkness is not going anywhere if he wants to keep his jollies, okay? It's not my fault if you don't understand what's going on.>"

"<As long as you can tell us we still have time.>" Deadlight Hollow consoled as he looked back at the city, where the root-growth of the Tree of Anti-Life seemed to have slowed. "<The...thing seems quiescent for now.>"

Mango cast away the last of cables that moored the hovering ex-US Army airship, a shotgun marriage between blimp and torpedo boat, to the patch of open field. "<Minimal seepage, Mister Baylor! Drops the bags from the gondola and we're ready to go.>"

"<Right. Everybody on board!>" Baylor secured Rey's arm over his shoulder and got ready to climb up the steps to the cabin. He stopped and sighed a long sigh as the sound of hoofbeats came from behind him, accompanied by a now-familiar mooing. "<Children and carabao first! Yes, that means you and you! It's your lucky day! Not you though, magic jeepney. The airship can't load vehicles. Sorry about that.>"

The jeepney produced no response at all in magnanimous acknowledgement of its noble sacrifice.

"<We had a grand time together, though! Me and Mango.>" Baylor added brightly.

The jeepney was a lovingly preserved antique model, replete in dozens of new dents and signs of damage after the day's adventures. It completely failed to indicate soulfully that although the time was short, it was perhaps worth it.

They all managed to get aboard with reasonable efficiency. Mango dumped the ballast, and the airship was off. The vista of the ruined, burning city rose into their view, a formerly human landscape of tenements and skyscrapers now completely dominated by the vessel of their adversary's ascension. A cloud of darkness hung over the landscape, and the sea was red with blood where the roots of the monstrous tree had sunk into the harbour.

But that vision also came with a measure of quiet, insulated by the closed cabin and baffled by the whine of propeller blades.

"...I see." Bolo said as he sat against the warm flank of his reclining carabao with the O.K. Kid in the cramped and rather bovine-smelling cabin. "So this was the mess I got caught up in. Much bigger than I thought, and I've been caught up in big things. I'm glad I did something, though." He turned to the tiny figure slumped beside him. "But how did a girl like you end up here?"

"I am the O.K. Kid, a diwata of the city. I protect...children. I was beseeched and adequately propitiated. I had to...act." The girl-child replied quietly, lips curled around uncomfortable words. She turned her glare on Bolo, daring him to disbelieve them.

"I believe you." Bolo said, meeting her eyes. "I've heard of spirits in the city. And I've lived in the country for long enough to recognize when people I meet aren't people." He leaned back. "Well, you did your bit too. Shame about your city though."

"I try not to think about it." She said, drawing her knees up.

"You know, my nipa hut got burned down too." Bolo replied, after a while.

"What is a nipa hut?"

Meanwhile on the bridge of the airship, John Baylor had his hands on the wheel. It felt reassuring, after that unscheduled sojourn. "<So, where to?>" He asked Deadlight Hollow and Rey, who had been propped up in a spare seat.

"<I'd advise a holding pattern at a safe distance.>" The former spoke up. "<So we can return to the fray as soon as possible once Rey makes his breakthrough. The disaster is still unfolding.>"

"<No pressure.>" The latter muttered.

"<It's settled then. I'll take her out over the sea and try to...did you see that, Akinwale?>"

Baylor and company weren't the only ones trying to flee the city in unconventional aircraft. As they watched, a small plane shaped uncannily like a flying lizard cut its way through the air below them, trailing grey smoke.

"<It's going too low.>" Mango observed. "<Engine trouble.>"

"<Not very good flying by whoever is in it, in any case.>" Baylor added. "<Rey, do you know any local superheroes who fly around in lizard-shaped planes? This seems like your kind of area.>"

Rey cradled his head in his hands and tried to think. "<There's...that's Jose Rival. But the last one had been dead for years...>"

Baylor raised an eyebrow. "<Then who's in the plane?>"

"<What he probably means is that there's more than one person behind the identity..>" Deadlight Hollow remarked. "<Some superheroes do have remarkably short lifespans because of the path they choose to pursue. You ought to know this.>"

"<Not...superhero. A vigilante.>" Rey managed. "<Anti-government. Like the guy in the movie with the...mask.>"

"<Well I get what you two mean. But it doesn't matter since it looks like it will crash any second.>" Baylor inclined his head through a porthole at the listing lizard-plane.

Deadlight Hollow sighed. "<I'll see to it.>" He twirled his colourless cloak and became a shimmer which slipped through the solid walls of the cabin.

"<Huh, that's convenient. Akinwale! Take the wheel. I want to see how this goes down.>"

As it turned out, not much; the ailing lizard-plane eventually plowed into a house and exploded. Moments later, Deadlight Hollow materialized on the bridge again, with two people who looked the furthest things from anarchic masked vigilantes at all clinging to him. "<Rey, I think you know these two.>"

"<It's Noynoy Aquino! Our country's president!>" Rey stood up and exclaimed at the plump, bespectacled man out of the two, who was still shaking. "<And that's his sister I think, whose name is uh...>"

"<Call me Ballsy.>" The plump, middle-aged woman out of the two said shakily. "<I thank you on the behalf of my brother and myself for saving our lives. The nation owes you its gratitude. Isn't that right, Noynoy?>"

"<Huh?>" The face of the president of the Philippines snapped from panic to bewilderment to a well-honed grin. "<Er, yes. Indeed. This is an unprecedented crisis. An absolute disaster. Ah.>" He quickly patted himself all over as if to confirm that he was still in one piece. "<It is vital that the nation's chain of command remains intact. For that, you must be thanked.>" He looked around at the bedraggled and unfamiliar people around him with uneasy eyes, even though the grin stayed fixed to his face, and focused on the only person he could recognize. "<Oh, Rey Quirino! Ready to save the country as always, are you?>"

"<Uh, getting round to it, Mr. President. But first I need to properly fortify my soul against the font of spiritual corruption that the secret dark heart of the nation has become after merging itself with a grandstanding demon, who took it off the hands of Fidel Ramos, the head of a secret military conspiracy to keep the nation safe. Only then can I successfully scale the Tree of Anti-Life and confront the demon's final form with the aid of People Power and the First Balisong, the spiritual legacy weapon passed down to me by Lapu-Lapu, my distant predecessor.>"

Deadlight Hollow perked up. Perhaps the country wasn't so doomed after all.

"<Wonderful!>" Noynoy proclaimed eagerly without as much as a single change in his expression. "<It seems that you have things well in hand! You'll be getting your medal for this in a week! Haha.>"

"Actually," Rey slipped back into his native tongue of Tagalog, "I'd like to ask for something more." His expression was the thoughtful one which would have sent Luiz into a panic if he was here to see it instead of being stuck behind an army cordon back at the airport.

Noynoy, of course, was completely unprepared. "Sure, name anything."

"Well...I want to get more out of life. The experiences of these past few minutes have made me want to give back to the country a lot more than I had been doing. This country has made me what I am and I just want to be grateful about it." Rey thought aloud. "Of course, provided that it's still here in a week."

"Nonsense! Everyone knows you will manage to save the day. You have never failed us yet." Noynoy said smoothly. "So what is it you want to ask me for? As long as it's not the half the kingdom, eh?" He laughed uncomfortably.

"An amusement park, I think."

Noynoy's grin slipped a little. "An amusement park, you say?"

"Yes. Themed after me." Rey considered. "That ought to make it popular enough. And maybe some resort development too. All under my brand, of course. I think it's time that the Rey Quirino brand moved beyond product endorsements. I've a mind to create some real value out of it."

"Uh, Rey." The president said, notes of panic creeping into his voice. "Maybe this isn't the best time to think about this? The...current crisis is a bit pressing and maybe we should all focus on dealing with it..."

Rey stood up. Noynoy reflexively shifted back a step and would have bumped into Deadlight Hollow if his sister hadn't steadied him.

"<I almost have it all worked out.>" Rey said with an uncanny calm. "<All that remains is the doing, but there's still a bit of time. Still, I couldn't have done it without being plugged into the soul of this country and its people. It gave me room to...think. To feel, too. It's something I owe them. And I'll do whatever in my power to repay this favour. I hope you can understand how important this is to me.>"

Noynoy looked Rey up and down as though he was an alien growing out of the skin of the Philippines' biggest celebrity. He flailed for some kind of solid ground and, finding he was stuck on an airship, tried for a retreat instead. "<Right. One must have the right priorities in life, right? Ahaha.>" Noynoy grinned desperately. "<Just as long as you don't go after my job as well.>"

"<Hmm.>" Rey said.

"<We wouldn't mind some medals too if the whole thing turns out okay.>" Baylor spoke up. He nudged Mango, who also nodded.

"<Ah. In this case.>" Benigno Aquino shored up his grin with all his willpower, causing it grow larger in size and intensity. It had always been the sign that he was in control and on top of whatever crisis his country was throwing at him, and he wasn't about to look like anything less than the perfect political heir in front of a bunch of foreigners. "<I'm sure your contributions to this country's welfare will be recognized.>"

It had been a uniquely horrible day for him. Having his seat of government levelled by a giant floating tree was just the cherry on the top of the police-killing, monster-rampaging, dragon-burning three scoop sundae. In addition to that, getting separated from his usual retinue, having to escape in the infamous personal transport of a notorious vigilante, and ending up in the hands of one mentally deranged superhero and a bunch of suspicious nobodies was the petit fours he didn't even order. Noynoy wondered how his parents ever found it in them to handle calamities of this magnitude.

The solution was something he had to find for himself, of course. Having parents who both were great political luminaries of the country was the kind of thing that left your own governance haunted by feelings of inadequacy.

"Ah by the way, your mother sends her regards." Rey said, more lucid by the second.

"What." The word came out of Noynoy's mouth.

"Oh yeah, Cory's been with me for a while. Offering...advice and spiritual support and so on."

"But my mother is dead." There was nothing left of the president except his grin, the only shape in a soul dashed that way and that by tide after tide of insanity.

"Yes, I know that." Rey explained sympathetically. "It's her catholic holy force ghost thing. Since I became the Hero of the Philippines, I've been seeing her in an on-and-off kind of way. Well, since I became the real Hero of the Philippines. There's a distinction somewhere there, I think."

Noynoy's grin twisted. "That can't be right. My parents are dead. MY PARENTS ARE DEEAAADDDD!!!" He shrieked.

The bridge fell into an awkward silence.

"<I'm sorry.>" Ballsy went and patted the hysterical president, who had started sobbing. "<I've heard from the family that he can get like this. He'll be back to his old self in a while. And I'll try to remind him of your requests at a happier time. Is there somewhere he can have a lie-down...?>"

"<Use the cabin. It's through that door.>" Baylor pointed at it. "<Akinwale, is there any possibility of some hot beverages for our guests?>"

"<There's only Pepsi, Mister Baylor. We weren't expecting any guests.>" Mango called from the wheel.

"<Forget hot beverages then. Don't want to end up being another Hindenburg, eh?>" Baylor chuckled forcefully. He opened the door to the cabin as Ballsy took her brother by the shoulder and guided him through it. "<Just watch out for the buffalo in there. It might smell a bit. And the weird kid. And the weird hick dude.>"

"<So. Rey.>" Deadlight Hollow demanded as soon as Baylor closed the door. "<What have you figured out and how are you doing it?>"

"<I think I understand what Ramos was doing, now. I'm sort of looking inwards and I'm seeing...more. More than myself. It's a whole ocean of People Power down there, like seeing a map of the whole country from really high up. And I can also see Darkness in the middle of it. He's spreading himself out because he's trying to take over all the roots and branches that were there – but it's made him...transparent. I hope I'm making sense.>"

"<Go on.>" Deadlight Hollow urged.

"<Uh, okay. So Darkness is in the middle of this giant...network thing. He can't move while he's feeding his power into it to make it grow. It's only game over if he makes it grow big enough to, well, sorta cover the whole country. It's difficult to explain. But before he does that, he's vulnerable. If I get next to him and shank him, I should be able to end the process.>"

"<I see.>" Deadlight Hollow said. "<So the Tree of Anti-Life is just a projection of the demon's aura in this plane. An overwhelming manifestation that conceals its true weakness...>"

"<Is that the name for it? Hey yeah you're the wizard, man. I don't even know why I'm the one explaining the magic stuff to you.>"

"<Ah, I just named it on the fly.>" A touch of perturbation crept into Deadlight Hollw's voice. "<Knowing the purpose of the demon, it made sense to name such a construct after more traditional stations of spiritual ascension. I wish I could advise you more, but first-hand experience of magical singularities like this tend to be hard to come by, for obvious reasons.>"

"<Well, it doesn't matter as long as someone is here to make sense of it. Someone has to write this all down, you know! I never paid attention to history back at school, but I'm pretty sure they're full of turning points like these.>" Rey briefly glanced off in some direction that didn't seem to exist for anyone else. "<But I think I've put it off for long enough. It's time I took the fight back to Darkness.>"

"<You're going to scale the Tree.>" Deadlight Hollow realized.

"<Like you said, it's a connection between this world and the spirit country soul dimension thingy. If I follow it up to the top, Darkness should be there. Waiting for me.>" Rey slammed his fist into his palm. "<And this time I'm gonna finish this whole drawn-out nemesis struggle thing.>"

"<Okay, I don't have as much of a stake in this and I like to think of honesty as an occasional virtue.>" Baylor interrupted. "<But do you really think you'll win?>"

The stowed shape of the First Balisong materialized in Rey's hand. "<This time, I'll have a few tricks of my own.>"

Baylor shrugged. "<It's your country. You want me to turn the airship around?>"

"<No need. I'll get off here. You can drop the president off at the international airport named after his dad, if it's safe. My assistant and the other ex-mil people should still be there. They'll take care of things. Deadlight Hollow, can you tag along? They should, ahem, definitely recognize you and please stop them if they try to shoot down the airship or something.>"

"<Consider it done.>" Deadlight Hollow replied. "<I'd rather be there to watch Darkness be cast down, but I'll trust you to do it.>"

"<Hmm, I'm okay with this plan. I was planning to do some business in your country, but that plan looks like a bust. Getting credit for rescuing a president wouldn't be too bad a consolation prize.>" Baylor rubbed his hands entrepreneurially. "<I'll get the emergency hatch.>"

"<That's an awfully casual tone for opening the emergency hatch.>"

"<Ha.>" Mango laughed from the wheel. "<Not with the way we use it.>"

A smooth metallic clunk and the coppery air over fallen Manila was rushing like a gale into the cabin. Baylor slipped aside, holding onto a safety strap as Rey approached the open hatch. Rey looked around the interior of the airship one final time, and caught sight of the O.K. Kid slumped against Bolo and his carabao. He paused. "What's wrong with her?"

Bolo looked up, surprised at the attention. "She said...not enough cough syrup. She couldn't stay awake."

Rey knelt down and took the diwata's boneless hand in his. "I couldn't have got here without you too. When I get back, you'll have all the cough syrup you can drink."

"<I think the problem might be more to do with prolonged manifestation outside her...>" Deadlight Hollow began.

"...And a new house. Hut. Er, wherever diwatas live." Rey stood up straight, caught the eyes of everyone, and struck his iconic heroic pose for one last time: chest puffed, fists at hips, head turned slightly sideways. The effect have been perfect if Rey wasn't in his second ruined costume of the day.

"REY AWAY!" He ran the few steps to the hatch and jumped out of it. Only then did he admit that the airship was fairly high up in the sky and the ground an awfully long way away.

The magic jeepney was ready for him. It matched speeds with his fall and Rey just had enough time to buckle himself in before it glided smoothly to the ground in a trail of dust.

"I think you know where I'm going." Rey told the jeepney.

The jeepney sped off towards Metro Manila.

To be continued...
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

Coming NEVER

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Shroom Man 777
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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Shroom Man 777 » Tue Aug 14, 2012 3:13 pm

The Goddamn Noynoy! :lol: :lol: :lol:

And Tenebrae has the same number of syllables as Sephiroth, which means that it can match the song, so good on Kamin. :P

"Sometimes Shroomy I wonder if your imagination actually counts as some sort of war crime." - FROD

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Ford Prefect » Wed Aug 15, 2012 12:55 pm


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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Invictus » Wed Aug 22, 2012 5:58 pm

Fallen Manila

Terrible in its majesty, the Tree of Anti-Life settled upon the city like a crown of thorns. The substance of its wood-flesh was black; its reality forced upon the cosmos by the overlapping of a thousand qlippothic phantoms, the corroboration of a thousand febrile lies. And yet its outline was but a solid mirage, the fractal Stygian sigils spelled out in the whorls in its rough bark reforming into new kennings of defiant blasphemy with every passing instant; woe upon any eyes that linger to read them.

No leaf or flower bloomed on its lower reaches, for its purpose in this world was to take and not to give; the entrenched taproots that drew a million ragged stitches between the earth and the darkness above were ample evidence of that. Instead, the roots all converged upon each other in a frozen frenzy, forming every imaginable variant of gnarled and twisting congress until they all became one; a trunk of gargantuan girth, piercing up into the great, opaque cloud that had become the new roof of the world.

It was being emptied, the world below. Upon tainted water and blooded earth, the Tree grew. Amidst desolation and suffering, its limbs rose in supplication. Above the smoke-layer of combusted meaning, it cradled the form of the Anti-Godhead. It will soon be time. The sun will vanish from the horizon and be lost forever.

And in this unfolding geography of a new map to hell, two voices were raised in lusty discourse.

"Left! Go left! Not right!" Rey tried to steer the magic jeepney from the front passenger seat by waving and gesturing wildly. "I'm the champion of the country here! I know what I'm doing! Besides, we'll never get past that knothole!"

Rey was making his own ascent of the Tree of Anti-Life by having the jeepney drive him up its roots. They were quite serviceable highways for a jeepney of the magic jeepney's calibre, but the trek was an unavoidably rough one. The ghost in the machine was smart enough to handle the minutiae of navigation, but it couldn't home in on its destination like Rey could, or have the actual eyes to see past the warped spiritual topography of the Tree. Still, Rey would have been simply too embarrassed to take over the steering wheel himself, even if he was sitting in the right seat.

He wished he hadn't buckled himself right into the front passenger seat when he boarded the jeepney in mid-air. But old habits died hard – when was the last time he had to drive himself anywhere? He wasn't even sure if he was certified to drive a jeepney.

But what they did have between them was a workable system. The magic jeepney never understood the desperate entreaties for it to change directions until the last moment. There were even several U-turns and a few close calls, but the two were still undeniably advancing up the side of the tree. The process of finding ways around the twists, knotholes and cancerous protrusions (and the occasional impaled corpse) all over the topography of the climbing roots was a slow one, but it was hardly an insuperable obstacle. The true battle hasn't even begun yet.

"Okay, up the root I'm pointing at, get past that stretch without turning us upside-down again, and stay off that groove. It looks wider than the tyre. Good." Rey said to his ride, eyes watering from mere glimpses of the wood he had been snatching. The jeepney wobbled gently as the root it was driving on merged into a larger one. The going was on the whole getting easier the bigger the roots got, the surface smoother and the twists gentler. But on the other hand the bark got rougher on the suspension and they started encountering folds in the wood big enough to swallow man and jeepney whole.

Rey leaned back a bit and tried to ignore the persistent vertigo that reminded him of the precarious angle at which he was travelling. His eyes snapped open when the bumps beneath him started to fade.

"No! Bad jeepney! Stop flying! Get back on the tree! We'll lose the trail!"

The magic jeepney settled sullenly back on the bumpy surface of the root. But Rey couldn't expect the simple spirit to understand how the trek must trace an unbroken path over the surface of the Tree to ascend spiritually, since the Tree was the physical manifestation of that ascension; and they needed to follow the contours of the Tree in order to end up in the same place Darkness was at. He had understood that much from dowsing into the People Power, and he never stopped wishing there was a better way to share his insights with other people than just shouting incomprehensible things at them. But hey, nobody said getting help to insert into someone else's Qlippoth from the outside was going to be easy.

"This isn't going to be easy!" Rey told the jeepney encouragingly. "And I don't think there will be any reward! And the chances of you getting out of this in one piece is frankly minuscule! But you love this country, right? You love watching the passengers you ferry around, wondering where each of them are on their own journeys in life, right? You love the ingenuity of the replacement parts that let you make it through another decade, right? You love the life you live, and running over the occasional evildoer, right? I understand that. All these things are what we're fighting for. Even if you won't live to see it, all those little magic jeepneys will one day tell stories of your sacrifice. This I promise you."

If the magic jeepney was at all encouraged by Rey's speech, it made no sign.

Finally they finished weaving their way through the tangle of roots and were driving straight up the grand trunk of the Tree of Anti-Life. The wooden terrain curved away to either side of them, and stretching horizon to horizon dead ahead of them was the great wall of stormclouds in which sickening patterns roiled and blinding black lightning flashed. This close to Darkness' ultimate throne, the air itself tasted of blood.

As the jeepney barrelled towards the cloud barrier, Rey was perturbed by the lack of active resistance. If the Tree was truly an extension of Darkness' own will, shouldn't it be doing something to stop him? But up here, there was nothing but shrieking wind and blaspheming bark. Maybe like Deadlight Hollow said, the Tree was also a projection into the material world by an object from a higher plane – it was not as though Rey would feel it if a fly landed on his shadow. Maybe Darkness just didn't notice. If that was the case, too bad for him.

The First Balisong materialized to do a little dance in Rey's hand, handles spinning, blade flashing to an unconscious mantra. It did him little comfort though, the thought that his brazen one-man surprise assault was achieving complete surprise. He still rather thought of himself as a superhero, after all. Up until he jumped out of an airship after having a mystic fever-epiphany, his life was built around the uncomplicated premise of finding monsters and punching them. But now, even his good ol' fists have been upgraded to a sword he'd barely used, and his newfound spiritual awareness was making him do things he would have considered completely loopy a week a ago, and his reaffirmed bravado was tempered with a little bit of wisdom, and the complications of it all crashed down on him in the quiet moment. He was moving way too fast across a completely unfamiliar world, borne by forces he didn't have time to understand.

Rey laughed. That was already exactly what he was doing.

They were almost at the clouds. Let's see if there was anything exciting inside, Rey thought.

A bolt of negative lightning arced into the trunk-ground near the wheels of the jeepney, leaving a livid scar. "Stay sharp!" Rey called to his mount.

It was coming down all around them. Black lightning raised small detonations of wounded bark, followed by peals of backward-masked thunder. At this altitude reality itself was thin; the barrier between dimensions was raining metaphysical violence upon the abomination that pierced it. At this proximity to the turbulent admixture of energies, the bolts were coming down (well, sideways) faster than Rey's metahuman reflexes or mystic intuition could anticipate, and it was sheer luck that none of them had struck a big metal object like the magic jeepney so far. Rey had to think fast.

He had an idea. The First Balisong came out and he held it aloft, like in that movie.

Sure enough, the lightning came for them. Bolt after bolt homed in on the thundering vehicle, but Rey's quick plan worked, drawing every strike into the glittering blade to be earthed harmlessly. The most Rey ever felt was a slight tingling, and now his sword has all these cool crackles all over it.

"Fuck yeah." He commented.

Man and jeepney plunged into the cloud.

Raw magic washed over Rey's skin and formed the boiling, roiling murk that foiled even his metahuman senses. Even the black lightning that suffused distant dancing pockets of the cloudscape with a strange approximation of light was useless as illumination. The world was compressed down to the sense of touch: the sensation of numinous vapours speeding past his face and the grinding of bark under the jeepney's wheels.

But this didn't mean that Rey didn't perceive the occasional glimpse of half-reality. Scintillating motes burst in his eyes, opening up into alien vistas of loss, temptation and less comprehensible things. But the visions never lasted for more than a tantalizing instant; all too soon they collapsed back into the turbulent cloudscape. If Rey's earlier visions had tried to reveal his destiny, these showed him how much it was still in doubt.

Reality itself was at war here. Boundary conditions churned the dominion of Darkness and the native power of the Philippines into something resembling primordial chaos, formless and volatile. At the same time, the cloud layer partitioned reality from what will be: Darkness' ultimate victory over reason and sanity. Similarly, Rey's passage through the cloud would bring him out of his own would and into Darkness' own imminent realm. Rey had no idea how real stuff could go into places that didn't exist, or what would happen to the whole setup after he beat Darkness and wanted to go back, but it was too late for speculation. The cloud was thinning, and he was almost at the other side.

The jeepney burst out of the cloud layer and into the upper reaches of the Tree of Anti-Life.

The sky over Manila was gone; surrounding Rey was a night so dark as to be undrawn. There was no light save for what crackled and glittered around the First Balisong.

There was also no air. Rey gasped, and reflexively he drew on the well of People Power within him – a link formed, and necessity took the place of oxygen.

But there was also no air for the jeepney's engine to run. It spluttered along on fairy fumes for a bit longer, then started to lose speed on its vertical trek up the side of a giant tree.

Damn it, Rey thought. Of all the things that kept working outside the universe, it had to be gravity.

He unbuckled his seatbelt in a flash and kicked open the door. He jumped out and sideways just as the jeepney faltered and drove his blade into the rough bark of the Tree, preemptively halting his own descent. But the magic jeepney was another matter.

Rey shot out a hand and grabbed his stalled ride by the front bumper. The blade he was hanging on sunk fractionally.

Then the front bumper came loose.

Rey watched, mouth gasping vacuum, as the magic jeepney who had borne him so far in his epic quest tumbled back down into the lightning-speckled clouds below.

He stared at the dented and peeling bumper that he held in his hand, and tucked it into where he kept the First Balisong. Its sacrifice would be remembered.

Rey climbed. The surface of the trunk was uneven enough to provide plenty of footholds, and whenever he couldn't figure out where to put his hands next he simply gouged in new ones. It was much slower going with the magic climbing wheels of the jeepney.

Rey thought about this as he went about the mechanical motions of climbing. There was really no reason why he as the People Power-empowered Hero of the Philippines couldn't extend his mojo to do what a random possessed public transport could do.

He concentrated, willing all that metaphysical machinery inside his soul to recreate that sense of driving along a horizontal plane. When Rey was sure enough that he felt gravity shift, he opened his eyes and leaned back experimentally to stand up straight under the new orientation, and completely failed to fall off the trunk of the Tree.

Pantomiming a sigh of relief in the airless vacuum, Rey proceeded with his super-speed.

The top of the Tree was within sight; a bulbous crown ringed by branches splitting into bald and ever-narrower barbs. That was the citadel where Darkness was awaited him. For the final battle. It was high time that this went down.

A final burst of climbing and there was no more Tree. Rey leapt triumphantly between two sky-stabbing branches and shifted his personal gravity so up was up again. He landed smoothly on the edge of the crown, a relatively flat expanse of wood encircled by the fence of splitting branches. And at the very centre of this purposeful arena, this terrain of testament, there laid...

"What the hell." Rey said, sheer anger giving sound to his words despite the lack of air. "I didn't bust my balls becoming a real hero just so you could eat a balut in front of me. And I certainly didn't haul my ass all the way up here just for you turn into a giant egg!"

"You hear me in there?!" He shouted at the enormous egg nestling in a hollow at the precise centre of the expanse. He marched over to it and kicked it in the shell, making a spiderweb of cracks over its mottled surface.

"You know what, I'm not gonna fall for it this time. I'm not gonna let you do whatever you want. I'm coming for you, even if I have to dig you out of a giant egg." The blade of the First Balisong flicked out; Rey took it in both hands and jammed it into one of the cracks. The shell felt thick, but the point of the blade sunk deep and the crack split wider. Clear yellowish liquid started to dribble from the gap.

"Ha! You can bleed! You have a hell lot of blood for an egg! Wait, do eggs have blood?"

Shrugging, Rey heaved on his sword to pry the crack open completely.

A shield-sized piece of eggshell came loose – and immediately blasted off the egg as a geyser of the same clear fluid erupted from the hole, as though under high pressure. Rey gasped and choked as he received a faceful of the jet. It smelled and tasted sulphury, vaguely rotten and incredibly foul. He flinched away and wiped the stuff from his eyes.

The high-pressure jet of disgusting egg-juices didn't look like it was running dry, or even getting less intense. It sprayed from the hole the First Balisong made and splattered all over the crown of the Tree, slowly forming rivulets and a small puddle.

"Okay." Rey said. "Don't tell me you're going to hatch. I don't need you to show me what you're gonna hatch into. But letting you hatch will probably be the end of the world anyway, so I won't."

He approached the egg elliptically and chipped at it some more with his sword. More pieces of the shell fell away, and the jet of amniotic fluid grew into a torrent with no abatement, flooding the whole platform up to Rey's ankles and pouring in miniature waterfalls down the crown of the Tree.

"Christ with a steel chair! Where the hell did you get all this? Are you going to hide behind thousands of gallons of egg-juice while I go after you?" Rey cried in exasperation. "Fine! Be a giant chicken! I'll get in there and there won't be anything else you can hide behind!" He vanished his sword, waded through the horrid juice, (double) held his breath, and walked into the raging torrent.

Rey was soaked in an instant, the horrid stream dashing against his body and threatening to push him back, but he had been drenched in far worse. He moved blindly, arms groping, until he grabbed hold of the inner edges of the ragged hole and anchored himself squarely in front of the escaping torrent. It splattered off him and sprayed wildly in every direction.

Flexing his arm muscles, Rey pushed against the hammering pressure on his body and forced himself through the hole, into the interior of Darkness' egg.

The pressure persisted, but the sensation of wetness faded. Rey dared to open his eyes, and opened them wide.

He was swimming in some great ethereal space, suffused with soft but sickly yellow light. The hole into the egg still hung behind him like a dark rift to nowhere, but the current of escaping fluid was much gentler in this half-real place, and Rey was able to escape its pull with a few vigorous swimming motions. Then a different current in the invisible medium swept him along, and his body was cast into a roving path around its circumference.

Rey looked around. At the very centre of the space hummed what he could only describe as a black hole, a great sphere of darkness limned in a crimson corona. As he watched, a flare erupted from the object, catching one of the rock-flesh asteroids that orbited the greater body and dashing it to pieces before subliming like a bloom of blood into water. Rey really, really hoped that he didn't have breach the black hole to finally confront Darkness, but he wearily materialized the First Balisong nevertheless.

But at that moment, he saw something cresting the horizon of the black hole. It was another orbiting flesh-asteroid, but it looked different. Instead of homogenized and calcified rock-flesh, the substance of this asteroid was alive and throbbing. In fact, it looked to Rey a lot like a malformed fetus or baby. A malformed baby that saw him back, and shrieked "Nooo! Not yet!"

"Go away!" The single eye amid its tangle of limbs was round and bloodshot. "Get back out! I'm not ready!" Its grotesquely undersized and sparsely feathered arms started twitching and flailing spasmodically. "You're not supposed to be here yet! You're not supposed to see me like this! Get out! Get ouutttt!"

Rey stared at the thing that Darkness had become.

"Don't look at me! Why are you looking at me?" The demon-fetus screamed. "I command you to stop looking at me! I have yet to take the stage and you shall not peek behind the curtain! How did you scale my Tree of Life? How did you pierce my Veil of Aeons? How did you breach my Chrysalis of Infinity? No one gave you the leave to be here! Go away or...are you laughing?"

Laughter was indeed bubbling out of Rey's chest. "Oh man." He said, tears dissolving from his eyes into the amniotic medium.

In response, the entire space started trembling violently. The omnipresent yellow light pulsated, grew sharp. "Stop! I abjure you! Curse you for your laughter! Laughter will not save you from your inevitable doom! When I remake the cosmos in my image I will abolish laughter! I will cast the wretched concept into the deepest abyss, so that none may forervermore express derision against me! I will..."

"Oh, just shut it." Rey interrupted. "I'm about done with listening to your shit. You got caught with your pants down, so I get to shank you. End of story." First Balisong in hand, he kicked forwards on a curving path around the the black hole, towards the unborn creature.

"No! Do not come any closer! Do not approach me! Do not approach me with your derision and your sharp blade!" Darkness gibbered. Flares from the black hole lashed out with increasing frequency, pulverising the belt of flesh-rocks into jerky-like gobbets. The invisible currents in the egg started churning violently, tugging Rey this way and that. "Nooo!"

Rey advanced undeterred, blade levelled at the protesting fetus-planetoid.

"No! Away from me! Noooooo!" Darkness tried to cover its eye as the Hero of the Philippines got closer, but its closest arm was too short. Around them, the unliquid was a boiling inferno.


The universe shattered. The egg shattered.

Rey found himself back on the crown of the Tree, drenched in half-cooked amniotic fluids. The egg was gone, and the absolute night was broken, immense scars that revealed the grey Philippine sky beyond, and the omnipresent sound – sound! – of space itself straining to keep itself intact. Darkness' dominion was threatening to fall apart.

But there was another presence deposited here by the destruction of the egg. A limpid thing covered in wet feathers, gangly and disproportionate limbs all sprawled in a heap. It stirred, and as Rey got upright it also slowly and painfully found its feet.

"Rey Quirino! What have you done?" It demanded from a mouth that was half slavering fangs, half serrated beak. "I was in the midst of my ultimate transformation! But your impudence has left me with this...this mockery of a...arghhh!" It shrieked and tore out its own feathers in a rage.

"Serves you right for being all evil and shit, Darkness." Rey retorted. He grasped his blade in both hands. "Now, are we going to finish this or not? Or are you too...chicken?"

"Urrggghhhhh!!" The Darkness-thing screeched as it stretched to its considerable full height and unfurled six featherless wings from its back. The extra limbs flailed madly as a further fit of rage seized it in the middle of the motion. Two shaking arms reached back behind their shoulders, grabbed two of the bare, comical wings and ripped them off in a spray of black blood.

Holding a dripping limb in each hand, the Darkness-thing gave off another howl of absolute fury and beat them together. They erupted into massive scimitars of black fire.

"Reeeey Quirinnno!" The demon turned its three functioning eyes on the superhero. "A peasant's death is too good for you. I will butcher you! I will flense you and fry your skin in the rendered sump-fats of Stygian worms! I will trample and shatter the crackling remnants beneath my feet! I will spit you upon a shaft of weeping wormwood and turn you over the fires of hell for half an eternity! I will gut you and bone you and cast your five viscera to the thirteen winds! I will hawk your heart to the things that dwell at the darkness beyond the end of time! You will die the death of a lechon! Grarrggghhhh!" It charged Rey on thundering webbed feet.

Rey brought up the First Balisong to guard, and was almost borne off the crown of the Tree entirely by the force of the charge. Blades locked, he pushed back against the berserk strength of his adversary and forced its blades down, making them cut huge gashes in the wood of the Tree that burned as though they were trenches filled with gasoline.

The Darkness-thing heaved its blades free, sending up a whooshing wall of black flame that scorched the branch-fence of the arena and then rushed through their gaps in a huge fan that stained the sky beyond. But Rey was already leaping up to the higher reaches of the branches, well above the demon's retaliatory attack.

Phantom feathers flared to life on the Darkness-thing's remaining wings. It made its own leap and was flying, powering straight towards Rey.

Rey spun the First Balisong. Its double handles briefly decoupled, and with an audible click it ejected a wicked-edged kampilan from somewhere within its mysterious recesses. Rey caught the new sword with one hand and snapped the balisong back into fighting position with a flick of the other. He dove at his opponent.

Four blades met in a calamitous shockwave.

And at the epicentre of the shockwave, the two adversaries duelled. The Darkness-thing fought with dominating power, pitting superior mobility and fury against the rock of Rey Quirino's valorous defence. With its burning wings it flapped above and below, charging and slashing at Rey from every direction, keeping him suspended in mid-air by the sheer force and rapidity of their clashing blades.

"I will not be denied! I will not be denied!" It howled. "You will pay for everything! Everything!"

"How about you stay still!" Rey raised his arm and flung his kampilan straight at the thing that was Darkness.

The Darkness-thing brought its scimitars round to smack the flying sword out of the air, even as Rey renewed his two-handed grip on the First Balisong.

The kampilan struck the demon like a lightning bolt, flaring bright with People Power. The Darkness-thing's many eyes widened as the impact drove it downwards, and reflexively it flared its wings wide to arrest its fall. With another effort it threw its arms wide, flinging the kampilan away from itself. Its field of vision was clear, and it realized its mistake.

Above the demon, Rey completed his downwards slash. Springing from the tip of his blade was a glowing blue line.

The Darkness-thing snarled and flew to one side. The ruler-straight shockwave of energy swept by it and cut into the arena below before dissipating.

There was a tremendous crack as the entire crown of the Tree split open, Rivulets of bubbling sap ran down the trunk. The two halves of the rent peeled aside in choruses of groaning wood.

The demon threw itself upward again, feathers flapping, but Rey was already falling. The two split the difference by meeting in mid-air, a single two-handed stroke hammering against a double slash that knocked the two apart again and landed them on either side of the massive rift in the middle of the crown-arena.

"Is this it?" The Darkness-thing sneered. "Is this all the mighty Hero of the Philippines can do? Have I shed my glorious form for so little?" For a moment, his wing-scimitars solidified into flesh, then sprouted short, razor-sharp feathers. Then the feathers started to rotate around the edges of the wings. And then caught fire and they spun, turning the entire assemblage into a pair of wing chain-scimitars.

"Then is it too much to ask you to just give up and die?" Rey asked innocently.

"It is you who will be the one to die!" The demon beat its four remaining wings. A barrage of flaming feathers arced high into the sky and screamed down at Rey.

"Uh-oh." Rey started running. The magic feathers whistled and burned around him as he dodged, rolled and finally sprung out of the range of the bombardment. As the ground around him exploded with black fire, Rey spun on his feet and sent another line of blue force towards the Darkness-thing on the other side of the rift. The demon dodged, and behind it a long, diagonal swathe of the forest of thorns fell from view as though shorn by a barber.

"Clumsy mortal fool! Be consumed!" The Darkness-thing planted its feet and slashed at the air with such violence that a jagged rift screamed open in space and grew towards Rey with such speed that it resembled more an energy beam.

No time to dodge. Rey braced himself and the rift in space-time slammed into the First Balisong with a shower of sparks. The pressure of it was incredible; raw chaos-stuff bled away from the sides of his blade, which glowed like a furnace in contact with the ravening edge of unreality. He was exerting all his strength just to hold the rift in place; there wasn't room for him to get out of the way.

The Darkness-thing slashed the air again. A second screaming rift chased after the first, also slamming against Rey's guard until the two intersected to form a massive X-shaped tesseract, which destabilized into a massive X-shaped explosion.

Rey flew backwards, trailing smoke, until he crashed into the thicket of thorned boughs at the outer edge of the arena. He spat blood.

The thing that was Darkness rocketed across the arena to deal the finishing blow.

The kampilan that fell from the sky almost impaled it through the back.

The demon pulled to a stop, nursing a clipped wing, as Rey half-landed, half-fell back on the floor of the arena. "You little tricks only prolong your tribulation, mortal."

"Oh...yeah?" Rey raised the First Balisong. "Delay this!" He sent another slash at the demon, a horizontal blue line to slice it in half at the waist.

The Darkness-thing crossed its whirling chainblades and caught the sweeping sword-stroke. The blue line seemed to stop for an instant, until it twisted between the blades' whirling teeth and snapped out of existence.

The butterfly sword dipped fractionally in Rey's appalled hands.

The Darkness-thing laughed a high, squawking laugh when it saw Rey's expression. "Despair! Justify my effort to slay you with your despair! Yes." It raised a blade above its head. In the fractured night above, a leering eye of multicoloured light swirled open.


The eye scintillated. A thunderbolt of madness pierced Rey, driving him to his knees in agony.


Another eye opened wide, and a pair of thunderbolts transfixed Rey with their twisting, lambent light. The superhero fell prostate, limbs twitching with residual shocks.


Three eyes shone their baleful light over the arena, and three thunderbolts descended.

Rey reared up and stabbed the First Balisong point-first into the wood in front of him.

The thunderbolts struck the handle of the sword and were earthed into the flesh of the Tree.

Rey grasped the faintly crackling weapon and used it to heave himself to his feet.

"Not when I've got one more trick up my sleeve." He ripped his blade from the ground and lunged.

Sneering, the Darkness-thing flapped its wings and flew out of Rey's reach. "Show me then!"

Digging into his reserves of People Power, Rey leapt up after the demon.

As the two gained altitude, Rey started glowing. He swung the First Balisong in a great arc over his head, leaving a glittering trail of light. The First Balisong seemed to split apart, and a great profusion of flying weapons spilled forth. A wavy kalis boxed in the Darkness-thing from the left, and a curved bolo did the same from the right. A pair of lightweight arnis sticks spun over the demon's head. A massive panabas, a leafy barong – all native Filipino weapons, all surrounding the surprised Darkness-thing in a rough ring, all enveloped in their own aura.

For the first time since they clashed, Rey saw fear in his nemesis' eyes.

He drew another fresh pulse of power into himself, and the glow around him intensified until he seemed to be made of light himself. His form surged, accelerating through the hapless body of the demon like a phantom. But not all of him was insubstantial – the Darkness-thing's tall frame rocked as through struck.

Rey blazed an aerial trail to the glowing bolo and grasped it in his hand. Weightlessly he turned and sped through the Darkness-thing again, leaving an after-image in his place. A long machete cut erupted across the demon's midsection, spraying black blood. But Rey was already heading for the next blade, leaving the next after-image, making the next strike on the Darkness-thing with such speed that it might as well be suspended in amber. Before the demon could even react, Rey had weaved a web of light around images of himself and his blades, and he himself faded back into solidity, clutching nothing but the First Balisong.

"And I call this one OMNISTAB!" He plunged directly downwards at the maimed demon, just as his entire web of after-images contracted inwards with their own weapons, a constellation of sharp points aimed against its unholy flesh.

The Darkness-thing just had the time for its head to jerk up, hideous half-mouth open wide-

-and have jaws clamp down on the steel that slid into its throat-

-and be pierced by a dozen phantom blades, and to have a real blade rammed through its gullet to the hilt.

Man rode wounded demon from the sky and down into the wide rift at the middle of the arena, where they impacted like conjoined comets into the black heartwood of the Tree of Anti-Life.

When the ashes cleared, Rey was standing astride a charred, skeletal thing that was the thing that was Darkness.

"Now I feel like a burger." He tugged at his blade, which was still lodged in what was left of the jaw of the monster. It wouldn't budge.

The Darkness-thing's eyes opened wide.

Before Rey could register his surprise, a bony arm lashed out and backhanded him in the stomach. He lost his grip on the First Balisong.

He stumbled back as the monster wrenched itself upright, screaming out of a ruined throat. Tumorous matter boiled like wax from its bones, transforming in seconds a thin, scoured frame to a grotesque hulk. Across stretched and torn skin, half-formed anatomy bled and wriggled in hideous profusion. The incoherent screaming continued until a new mouth ripped opened at the base of the monster's throat, grinning.

"Pathetic mortal anak ng puta! Did you think my immortal essence could be destroyed by mere metal? How can you petty prestidigitation prevail against my perfect evil? I will crush your soul like a puppy!"

The monster that was Darkness punched Rey into the side of the rift so hard that one half of the already split crown of the Tree rocked back sharply, connected only to the trunk by an increasingly tortured hinge of wood.

Rey lay half-buried in a Rey-shaped crater of pulverized wood, hurting too much to even try to move. This was compounded when the Darkness-thing landed on him with another massive crash, driving its knee into his chest. Rey made a choking noise.

Far beneath them, what still attached their side of the Tree to the trunk itself finally gave way under the last impact. Half of the arena sheared off and began a slow, rumbling fall into the clouds below.

The Darkness-thing reach down, tore Rey from his personal crater and hurled him high into the air. Then the demon hauled itself aloft on misshapen wings as the ground fell away beneath it. A taloned hand reached into its navel and tore out a length of oily chain that unreeled as though from its innards, and hurled it after the shrinking figure.

Pain tore at Rey's leg as his flight jerked abruptly to a stop. The chain wrapped around his ankle dragged him back down as the Darkness-thing hauled. Using its own massive body as a fulcrum, it swung Rey in a wide arc that drove the superhero hard into the trunk of the Tree.

Reeling in Rey's limp body like a fish, the Darkness-thing threw its head back and cackled, making the sword stuck in its skull wag and wobble. It grabbed the umbilical-chain in both hands and swung it downwards, casting his opponent back into what was left of the arena with another crash.

"Pathetic mortal! Your entertainment value diminishes greatly without your little relic weapon. You shame your own pretensions to heroism and duty! The vast matrix of power that you have inherited remains locked in your cage of hapless flesh! Your claims to champion-hood are as hollow as the very nation your defend." The demon's ruined face left little room for expressions, but certain haphazard contractions of muscles indicated that it was making one. "If you were to come at me at a more fateful juncture, with all the hosts of heaven behind you...then, perhaps, it would all have been justified. My ascension would have been glorious. It would not have been this pantomime of tawdriness that taints even the manifest darkness of the Philippines. Poor clay makes for a poor vessel indeed."

Swollen wings brought the Darkness-thing to the ground with the rattle of slowly coiling chain. Above it, the gaps in the absolute night were healing and shrinking. The grey skies of Manila seemed to retreat. "But none of it will matter. The boundaries have dissolved. The soul is one with the foetid essence of your benighted nation. You can no longer stop me, for there is no longer anything to stop. The meaningless name of Darkness Tenebrae has been cast aside. The release is worth even this indignity, yes. Soon, everything you have ever stood up for will be under my sway. This form shall pass. This world shall pass and it shall be as though it had never been. Your destiny shall be as nothing to the abyss to come!"

Rey laid in a heap before the Darkness-thing, hands tangled among lengths of chain. Very suddenly, his hands tightened his grip and he rolled, throwing his entire body into it.

The umbilical-chain that vanished into the demon's navel went taut instantly, eliciting a cry of pain from the creature. The Darkness-thing doubled over and almost toppled, talons tearing at the torn flesh of its stomach.

Dragging his pain-wracked body behind him, Rey jumped up to grab the First Balisong lodged in the monster's head, which briefly dipped into reach...

But the Darkness-thing reared up at the very last moment and intercepted him with a steely grip.

"Your persistence shall not be rewarded!" It spat. "What a tiresome quality, this persistence! When I preside over the chattel stocks of your people after I have mastered all life, I shall ensure that the quality of persistence is only found in the insects I breed for torment!"

The Darkness-thing tossed Rey into the last patches of thorn-boughs in the arena that were still upright. He hit the unyielding wood and bounced, and would have collapsed to the ground if the demon hadn't wrenched the First Balisong out of its head and thrown it after him. It went through his shoulder and pinned him upright to the wood.

Rey gasped. Finally, he got his manly movie shoulder wound. But it was significantly less bearable than he had imagined. Blood dribbled from the hole cut clean through him, and black smoke curled from the blade burning in horror of heroism turned on itself even as his hands tugged limply at it. A numbness tingled into his extremities, and his vision started going dark. The scene of the ravaged arena standing alone in the half-finished universe slowly faded from him. He was alone, slumped in a featureless void.

Was this finally it? Had he put up enough of a heroic resistance that the universe was finally obliged to kill him?

"Not quite." A voice said behind him. "It means I've finally gotten through to you."

Rey spun in surprise. "The late Jaime Cardinal Sin, former Archbishop of Manila!"

"It is indeed I." The plump, bespectacled shade replied. "Made a spectre of People Power, bound to aid the people of the nation in their greatest hour of need."

"So I'm not really dying?" Rey asked. "I was worried. I mean, I swear I saw a bit of my life flashing before my eyes there, before you arrived."

The cardinal signed. "Everything is still hanging in the balance. Your life is not the only thing to be wagered and lost. Remember who you are the hero of."

Rey groaned. "Yeah, yeah. Hero of the Philippines, champion of its people and all that. I've already been fighting for them! The other guy is most definitely the type who eats puppies and sets fire to orphans and unravels the universe and I'm fighting him! It counts! What else do I have to do?"

"Your heart is in the right place, Rey. The wellspring of People Power in your soul is proof of that." Sin said gently. "But do you know why you still cannot match the dark power of your adversary, even with the well wishes of an entire nation at your back?"

"Because I dunno, Darkness has the ill wishes of an entire nation at his back?" The numbness was creeping deeper into Rey's body, and numbly he laid back in the darkness. "I mean, just clarify this bit for me, Father. I'm all the good. He's all the evil. We're just opposite halves of the Philippines butting heads with each other. But what if there's more evil than good? Wouldn't that mean that Darkness wins because my country wants Darkness to win? Then what's the point of me trying to beat him?"

Sin smiled, and knelt down to pat Rey's shoulder with a spectral hand. "Rey, your question is one worth asking. But did God not leave us with the power to choose between good and evil? Doesn't He refuse to intervene in this world in respect of our free will? But this doesn't mean that we, as human beings, should stand by and watch evil be done. We are fallen, every one of us, yet we yearn for mercy and charity because the price of choosing evil is too great to bear."

"Uh, I get the choice part. But..."

"Also because what is happening right now in the Philippines is not the choice of the people." Sin continued. "The Heart of Darkness is a tumour in the spirit of the Philippines, but it is not the source of all evil. Good and evil comes in sincere movements of the soul, Rey. Ordinary people wrestle with their consciences every day, fall short, but are forgiven nevertheless. No demonic tyrant has the right to seize everyone by their worst natures and drag them into a hell of its own devising. For this reason, its power will never be legitimate."

"That does make me feel a little better. I think." Rey contemplated. "But I also think that the big issue is I'm still getting my ass handed to me."

"You possess People Power, but you cannot utilize it fully. Why is that?" The dead cardinal admonished. "You draw on People Power like yet another one of the gifts you have been blessed with, but People Power was never made to be centralized and executed by what would have been called a dictator. That would be antithetical to its nature. For good or for ill, you are taking too much upon yourself and by doing so, you are risking tremendous defeat."

"But...ah. Yeah, I get it now." Rey realized. "I know how to do it."

"Good. Go get'em, Rey." The ghost of Cardinal Sin vanished, and the devastated vista faded back into view.

The pain of impalement shot back into prominence, but so did the energy born from certainty. Rey's feet jerked and kicked back into the boughs behind him. The blade pinning him to the wood came loose and he landed on his knees with a moan of agony.

"Oh? Did I not deny you life?" Came the Darkness-thing's voice, echoing simultaneously from two mouths. "Did I not welcome you to die? Do not cling to life, hero. You are still a mortal, and it is the least dignified thing for a mortal to cling to life like a gutted cockroach."

"Shut up, I'm concentrating." Rey murmured.


"I said shut up, I'm concentrating." Rey murmured more loudly. His hands scrabbled, then gripped the double handle of the First Balisong. Then he yanked. With a scream and a spurt of browning blood, he ripped the blade free from his own body.

The twisted silhouette of the Darkness-demon blurred into his tear-filled view. "This gesture is pointless and pathetic even by your standards, Rey Quirino! Dare you intend to raise that useless piece of metal against the Evil That Walks?"

Rey glanced down at his bloodstained blade. It was pitted and rusted, as though the traitorous passage through the body of its master had aged it by a thousand years. But it didn't really matter.

He raised it with his working arm for one last time and plunged it, blood and all, into the Tree.

"Not really." Rey grinned from bloody teeth as the arena started to rumble.

The Darkness-thing looked down, and not even its twisted, half-avian features could conceal its alarm. "What did you do to my Tree of Life?" It demanded.

"A little...rewiring." Rey managed, leaning heavily on the First Balisong. The whole Tree shuddered again, a vibration that seemed to descend from its ruined crown to the least of its roots.

On the verge of panic, the Darkness-thing lunged for the hunched figure.

People Power flared. A brilliant light blasted from Rey's form, throwing the demon back.

The tips from the cardinal's holy ghost were helpful, but Rey never really appreciated what he was doing wrong until now. He poured his soul into the great sea of People Power, and the People reciprocated. Connection after connection spiralled away from him, node after node coming live, branch after branch flush with liquid gold. This was the true map, a tapestry more brilliant and more beautiful than the ones he had glimpsed before. This was what Darkness was only able to stumble upon through the most roundabout ways. He wasn't surprised, the fact that the demon had gotten it wrong all along.

But Darkness did get one thing right. Rey did need something new to stab him with.

So he opened his mouth.

And across all 7,107 islands of the Republic of the Philippines, fishermen looked up from gutting their catch, and cooks put a lid on their bubbling sauces, and militiamen hesitated even in the midst of hacking each other to death, and the child next to the radio suddenly placed his hand over a pocket for something within it burned, and all heard the mighty reverberation of a familiar voice. The voice of their Hero.

"Friends! Pinoys! Countrymen! Lend me your knives!" Rey bellowed.

"You dare, Rey Quirino?" The thing that was Darkness protested from many throats. A dozen sinewy arms had sprouted from its shoulders to tear at the ever-burning radiance around Rey, and black fire dribbled like saliva from its five heads. "You dare to usurp my unshadowed sovereignty, so gloriously revealed? Your countrymen will not accept your rule! I have already branded their cowering souls with my sceptre! They know it not, but within their breasts beats only one heart! My heart! The Heart of Darkness!"

"You're wrong on just about everything, so just shut up, okay?" Rey said. "Or you can sit your ass down and wait and see with me."

"You can demand nothing!" The Darkness-thing cried. It pushed vainly against Rey's aura with its own. "They will not come for you...what?"

They came in their millions.

They came through the narrowing cracks in the unrendered night, and in such numbers to rip them wide open again. In other places they tore their own holes through the false firmament with the crack and tinkle of shattering space-time.

They came, balisong and kampilan, kalis and panabas, bolo and cleaver, golok and barong, KA-BARs and kitchen knives, shanks and pig-stickers, sabres and bayonets, scrap and steel.

They descended, swirling around Rey in a silvery school as the Darkness-thing leapt back in alarm, and drew back to form a vast ring in the skies surrounding the arena, all pointing inwards.

The demon that was Darkness took flight, burning. The flotilla of blades rose to keep him surrounded.

"What is this?" It demanded. The panic in its voice was palpable. "What is this display of defiance? If the hallowed blade of the champion cannot slay me, then what power do the crutches of a million pathetic clawless beasts have?"

Rey slowly straightened. But it was a slowness that came from pain, not hesitation."This is an instant referendum." He explained simply.

"Pah!" The Darkness-thing scoffed. "You call upon your peers to judge me? What matters the mewling condemnations of you pathetic mortals when I set out to trample over them in the first place?"

Rey shook his head. "This isn't about you, Darkness. It was never just about you. It wasn't just about you and me either, though it was nice of you to include me in your mad game since the very beginning. Did you really think you could devour the hearts of millions without earning their permission first? Did you really think you could be everyone and be alone at the same time?"

Things that approximated fear and doubt crossed the demon's faces. It swooped higher and higher, but everywhere its path was barred by glowing, glittering points. "No. I am the one they all dreamed of! I am their waking nightmare! I am the Dark Heart of the Philippines!"

Rey gestured at the infinitude of tools and weapons that surrounded them. "These are the true heart of the Philippines, not you. The honest knives and better natures of the People. Not you." As he spoke, his voice grew stronger and louder until it transcended his metahuman lungs. "And look. They have come out in force to throw you out, you bum."

Rey raised a single, bloody hand. The ring started contracting, the more eager of the blades sliding furtively ahead of their peers. The Darkness-thing flitted futilely, trapped like a fly in a narrowing space. "You cannot." It uttered, eyes twitching for an escape.

"They can. The People have made their choice, Darkness." Rey's voice now echoed from every angle, the output of a million throats. "And they have chosen to fuck you with switchblades."

The Darkness-thing raised its heads to the heavens and emitted a long, despairing speech – which was drowned out by Rey's next word, a sky-shattering roar.


The ring of steel collapsed inwards, leaving countless comet trails, and became light.

The demon that was Darkness, the Dark Heart of the Philippines, was impaled. Intersected. Transfixed by the sheer volume of ethereal blades that passed through its body. Its dark shape all but vanished beneath a coalescing halo that was itself formed of countless infalling waves of glittering steel. The critical mass that hung between the arena and the sky like a new sun grew brighter and brighter until...

Rey lowered his hand.

The glow vanished abruptly. There came a sharp, clattering shower as countless blades fell and landed point-first on the wooden arena, and others that missed and streamed off the sides of the Tree in violent rivulets.

The only thing left hanging in the air was barely scrap and sinew, more defined by the absences that its tattered web of tissues outlined. Only sheer incredulity and the bare suggestion of wings kept it aloft.

"I-I am defeated? It cannot b-be!" A small voice on the wind cried. "I am the Filipino Dream...come true..."

"Then maybe you should have remained a dream, in the slumbering hearts of my people." Rey said with a weary finality.

"I will never remain...just a dream..." The voice of Darkness faded, and its remains exploderated.

Where the demon once hovered, only a tiny kernel remained amidst wafting strands of smoke that themselves thinned and vanished. A cracked ovoid, within which was a compacted, vaguely demonic shape. A balut of Darkness.

The the thing streaked into the far horizon and was gone.

Rey fell to his knees. He was pretty done, too.

Above and around him the night fell away completely, pitch-black fragments peeling away and sublimating into nothing. The polluted tang of Manila air came back to him in full force. Below him the eldritch stormclouds were dissipating, holes opening up to reveal the burning city below.

The Tree of Anti-Life started falling apart as well. Rents split the dark wood as it lost its unnatural vitality and ceased to support its own weight. So too did the treetop arena list and fall.

Rey could only manage a feeble and symbolic protest as his body slid across, then off, the blasted platform, accompanied by an honour guard of loose knives. The battle was won, the country was saved, and it seemed too much to hope for that the euphoria would further translate to protection against a falling death as the boss' fortress collapsed. Or to stopping the serious bleeding in his shoulder, for that matter.

Instead, he landed on something reasonably soft. That was acceptable for now, Rey supposed, as he laid there and started bleeding over the cushions. It was a good break.

It took a while, but the familiar puttering finally aroused Rey from his stupor.

He sat up. The ghostly wireframe chassis of the magic jeepney surrounded him, and what he had been sprawling in was its surprisingly solid back seat.

"It came for you." Cory's shade said, leaning from the front seat.

"But I saw it fall down..."

"The advantage of being a possessing spirit is that it can persist even after the destruction of its physical form." Sin's ghost explained from the other front seat.

"Ah. So it's now a magic jeepney ghost? Doesn't sound that awful." Rey clutched his shoulder. "I thought I had gotten it killed..."

"The cardinal here is the expert on pagan spirits, but the diwata may need a new home sooner or later." Sin nodded as Cory removed an incongruous tin mug from a cup-holder. "That's how they work. If you want to do something to repay its service, you should do something about it. Just like you promised that girl, too."

"I haven't forgotten." Rey groaned. "By the way, what are you...oh." He said as she splashed the mugful of healing rain over Rey's shoulder and the wound washed off like a stain.

"Ah." Cory said brightly. "The right dosage." She emptied the rest of the mug over the side.

"So well done, Hero of the Philippines." Sin said. "You have saved the soul of this country, and that is no ordinary feat by any standard. You have earned peace as well as the strength and wisdom you found during your quest, as well as the happiness and regard of your countrymen. I can only advise you to be content – many national heroes would be lucky to even see the last item."

"But, what about all the new superpowers and the sweet sword..." Rey flexed his healed shoulder, and his hand felt the absence of the First Balisong. He tried to reach out and recall it, but it wasn't picking up. "I guess my People Power is going away too now that the quest is over? Well okay, I was only borrowing the power, but...I just feel lost after all this, I guess. What's for me after saving the country for real? Is it back to product endorsements and burger tours? Just a hint or two, with your ghost wisdom or ghost prophecy powers or something." He asked ruefully.

"Didn't you make a few demands of my dear son?" Cory said innocently.

"Right. Those. The amusement park will keep me busy, I guess." Rey rubbed his hands. "Still, I get to have an amusement park. I can be a genius sometimes."

For a few moments Rey simply enjoyed the tranquillity of riding a ghost jeepney across the lightening sky. Then he remembered something he saw. "The balut! Darkness! What happened to it?"

Cory and Sin looked at each other gravely. "Some things will become clearer in time, Rey." Cory was the first to speak.

"No. He deserves to know more." Sin interjected. "Darkness took the Dark Heart into itself, as you well know. But when he took up its power against you and failed, what was left of the demon was made to fill the void. It has become the country's new Heart of Darkness, Rey."

Rey slumped back. "That means I have to fight it all over again?"

"The Heart of Darkness is something that will always be, until the sun grows cold and the very spirit of the country itself becomes extinct. But you have let out the pus, in a matter of speaking." Cory consoled. "The power of Darkness – of the Heart – will not be capable of anything like what we have seen today for a very long time."

"Good. Because I'm really pooped. Hey Cory, do you have another cup of that healing rain?"

Cory smiled a little conspiratorial smile. "Our time on this plane is almost over. The damage done by the demon is healing, and the veil is thickening. We can't be with you for much longer, and there are still other things for us to do."

Rey struggled to keep his eyes open as the day's exertions started to catch up with him. Lying back really was a mistake. "I think I'll miss this, all this attention from famous dead people."

Sin smiled. "You won't be alone." He and the ex-president faded away, leaving Rey in the chugging ghost jeepney. Then the jeepney decelerated to a stop in the air, above the floating layer of clouds which were now pregnant with thunder. Proper thunder.

Ah, that Cory.

The last thing Rey saw before consciousness left him was the clouds bulging and breaking as the nose of John Baylor's airship rose into view, accompanied by its captain's loudspeaker-amplified voice shouting "You don't happen to have your wallet on you, do you?"

To be concluded...
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

Coming NEVER

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Ford Prefect
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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Ford Prefect » Thu Aug 23, 2012 2:25 pm

Man was that ... was that a sincere polemic about the importance of democracy????

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Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Invictus » Thu Aug 23, 2012 3:23 pm

Ford Prefect wrote:Man was that ... was that a sincere polemic about the importance of democracy????
It worked out that way while I was writing it :P
"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

Coming NEVER

User avatar
Posts: 1273
Joined: Mon May 19, 2008 11:44 pm

Re: [Secret Santa] ADVENT REY

Post by Invictus » Thu Aug 23, 2012 6:15 pm

To commemorate the victory of Rey Quirino over his mortal enemy, BONUS COMIC(?) 2 is unlocked:

"This explanation posits that external observation leads to the collapse of the quantum wave function. This is another expression of reactionary idealism, and it's indeed the most brazen expression."
REBUILD OF COMIX STAGE 1 - Rey Quirino Versus the Dark Heart of the Philippines
"...a literary atrocity against the senses..." - Ford

Coming NEVER

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