Hazel felt something…a presence…and it was approaching from outside the bathroom. She couldn’t spare more than a moment to gloat before the familiarity of the presence assaulted her senses. Fuck it. She twiddled her fingers in the air and muttered the incantation, “Now You See Me…”
The door to the bathroom slammed open and a giant hulking clay dude stood there and scanned the room. This guy had MUSKles on top of MUSKles. He glanced at SharkFace on the floor but kept looking around for…something.
What did I fail my prowl or something? Ah well! Nothing is ever easy.
The big guy started to walk into the restroom, past her, thankfully…until at the last minute he turned RIGHT in her direction. Oh shit. A giant clay tree-trunk thick arm wound up in an improvised Gumby Haymaker and Hazel took the opportunity to simultaneously attack. She was confident that his blindness wouldn’t require her to ACTUALLY dodge the potentially fatal uppercut…
And her courage paid off. She was still wiping shards of glass from her hair and licking blood from her lips when the spell went off and ClayPot found himself standing on Fly Paper.
“Well ain’t this a popular restroom?” she said to no one in particular. “Really boys, I’m sorry to interrupt. You see I’ve lost my way. Can you tell me how to get to Pismo Beach? Albuquerque?” She did her best Bogs Buggy impression but she feared it would be lost on these blowhards. Claymation, especially, seemed hellbent on beating someone up. Dropping the invisibility didn’t seem like a good idea after what Hammerhead pulled but she tried anyway.
Gumby’s sense of humor was about as fragile as his big clay feet and his massive, raging strength ripped the entire length of his legs upwards in a hail of clay sinews. He was on the move again as his legs and feet literally re-formed instantly under his locomotion.
Reappearing she said, “c’mon guy – don’t make me put the net on your like ol’ fishface here.” His head cocked to the side for a moment. She had stumped him! A voice came over the old-style radio and Hazel heard clearly that the Hounds (whatever they were) were close and that they had to grab the Sharkface and get out now…without a fight.
“Uh oh! Time to go! I don’t think so bub. I can take a few puppies easy-peasy. First off, what the hell is going on here?”
Clay handed her the walkie-talkie as if that would answer all her questions.
“Strong and silent type, eh? I can dig it.” (click) “Hi, I’m not sure who you are but your Clay attack dog just tried to punch me into next week. I want some serious answers and I want them now. I’m starting to get angry…and you wouldn’t like me when I get angry.”
“Yeah, whatever lady. I don’t have any answers for you right now. My name is Hawk and I’m the leader. If you want to live you’ve got one chance to come with us. That’s it. I’m not jeopardizing the mission to assuage your ego. No offense, but we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
“Where am I?”
“You’re in the Nightlands.”
“Yeah, I get that. But where the FUCK AM I? Wait, is this China?”
“They’re closing in. Clay, pickup the Fish and meet us around back. Remember, shift out of your Morphus ASAP to avoid further detection.”
“Hey! Hey, I’m not done talking to you.”
“Bring the radio then but we’re getting out of here now.”
Hazel could hear talking on the other end, muffled. Clay picked up Sharkfin and settled him easily over one shoulder in a fireman’s carry. He paid no heed to the buzzing chainsaw but the giant shark body seemed to sink right into the clay. Eeew! I bet he was a blast at parties! Hazel took the radio and followed Clay out of the building. Mentally, she noted that the Tomorrow Legion was kind of a dumpy shithole on this side of the mirror…in China.
Outside, Hazel met Lainey and Hawk. The girl was small-ish. She looked like a porcelain doll – beautiful but weird and inhuman. Her skin was the kind of cream-colored tone that magazine ads use to entice women into spending their life-savings on products that don’t work. She looked cute – in a Crabbage Patch kind of way. The guy Hawk, the leader, he looked every bit the part of mercenary. He was dressed like a Navy SEAL…or a green beret or something. And he was all down to business. He gave her a look that said “shut the hell up” and the three of them started hoofing it. Hazel followed a short ways away – still in the vicinity but having moved away from the Chinese Tomorrow Legion building…uh spot. Hawk stopped to take inventory.
“Uh, hi! I’m Hazel. And apparently you think you’re saving my life and we’re running from dogs.”
“Uh, I’m Hawk. And I’m saving your life…for free. You can thank me later. And we’re running from Hounds – not dogs – and we’re dropping our Morphus forms so they can’t sense us. Shark – that means you too. C’mon people, we don’t have much time.” And one by one they all left their “Morphus” forms and turned into human-looking people…like Hawk. Hazel didn’t know how she knew but somehow she sensed that Hawk’s Morphus – whatever it was – would be gruesome. He seemed like the kind of man who had seen a lot of battle…and seen a lot of friends die. He had a battle-hardened grimness about him and a set determination to his features that brooked no compromise or question. The shark didn’t comply.
“Sharkface, I’m not gonna tell you again. Drop your Morphus.” A gun appeared from out of nowhere and was pointed in the fish’s face.
“Aahah bite me animal lover!”
“WAIT!! What the hell is wrong with you! You can’t shoot an unarmed and subdued foe!”
“Is that so? Watch me. Sharkface. This little girl here is sticking up for you. She’s obviously got morals or principles that I don’t have. I will put a bullet through your brain if you don’t change. RIGHT. FUCKING. NOW.”
“Go for it. Then you’ll never get what you want…not without eating my brain and reading my entrails! Hah! You’re so fucked and you know it!”
“Hey, SharkyShark, please comply. I may not harm a subdued or unarmed foe but I’ll drop the net if you promise to change. Please don’t endanger us. We give you our word we won’t harm you if you change.” She looked over at Hawk to ensure she had his support. He grudgingly gave her a nod and she dropped the magic net. And in an instant he hit Clay with a Sharkface headbutt and began to “swim” through the air! Hawk put a few bullets into him…silenced…but it didn’t seem to slow him down.
“Shit!” Hazel tried to re-cast the Magical Netting but it didn’t quite go off without hitch. The netting captured the SkyShark but a mystical tether was attached to her wrist! She wasn’t strong enough to hold on and didn’t have time to sticky herself to the ground. Uh oh! She was going for a magical balloon ride! Up up and away! Hawk kept firing but Lainey was looking awfully nervous about doing so with HER gun. Hazel hazed her and badgered her and bullied her into putting a few more bullets in the shark…which she did at the expense of secrecy and silence. Uh oh! No silencer on her gun!
Hazel canceled the spell and dropped to the ground. Ouch!
“Okay, we lost him. We’ll find him again though. Everyone look normal. Blend in with the Dopplegangers. We’re getting out of here alive.” Hawk was all business.
The journey back to their hideout was uneventful though adrenalin filled. Whatever these Hounds were everyone – even Hawk – seemed to respect them…if not outright fear them. On the walk back Hazel got the full exposition and explanation of where she was, who she was, and what was going on…which made about as much sense as anything ever did. Hawk elaborated on what Nightbane are and explained about the Nightlords and Nightlands. Apparently the Nightlands are a mirror world – a reflection of the real world – only darker where the sun never rises…or sets. It’s a place where the Nightlords rule with an iron fist and their subjects are in perpetual fear. It’s a place where Dopplegangers live out their lives as mirror images of the people they represent in the real world…back on earth. Guess we’re not in China.
As these Nightlords were the rulers it was believed that all Nightbane came from them and derived powers from them. They had created this world and inadvertently created the beings who oppose them…the Nightbane who use their powers for greater good…instead of evil and destruction. Hazel equated them, on some level, with The Tomorrow Legion…with super heroes. They were the good guys…in a dark way. Dark Hazel grinned. She had finally found her place. Her second skin…her “Morphus” as they called it felt right at home among the motley crew of misfits and ragtag heroes. Her demon mask, as well, resonated with dark powers and a “hunger” to taste Nightlord blood. She was meant for this. She was built for something extraordinary. She wanted to be on the right side of the war…on the right team…and fight the good fight. She, Hazel, Lashe’evadne Sycorax-Circe Griselda Duchesne was an Agent of Destruction – she was a Death-Bringer to the Nightlords. And they would pay dearly for their crimes against humanity. This patriotism stuff was infectious!
Hazel only stayed for one night – though it was difficult to tell the passage of time without the sun. After she woke up the team left together so they could head to a location in Grim Gulf. Hazel, after looking at a map, thought she recognized and correlated this location to the “Silver City” area in Century Station. Hawk suggested that Sharkface probably went back to one of his usual watering holes and that their best chance at capturing him would be to lay in wait and set an ambush. Sharkface, evidently, was working for one bad dude – a Doctor Makalai – who was doing all kinds of unearthly supernatural experiments on super-heroes and Nightbane alike. Hawk’s mission was to find this guy and…well, set him straight. Now who gave him the mission, what kinds of experiments the doctor was doing, what Sharkface’s role was, and a bunch of other questions came to mind but Hazel let them go unanswered. She was a stranger in a strange land and she had just been given a crash course in um…alien biochemistry. Basically – being told that she wasn’t human. And she had been running on ADHD EMPTY for a long time practically Schizo with juggling so many things. The Legion depended on her! She hadn’t give herself an opportunity for reprieve…but it looked like this journey into Chin…er, the Nightlands would force her to get some…and enjoy the road to self-discovery.
On a not unrelated note, Hazel was curious about OTHERS of her kind and books or knowledge of their special powers. They called them “talents.” She asked them about a library. They thought maybe if there was a library in that place, it would probably be in Lord Rotiel’s tower. When Hazel suggested they break in they all looked at her like she grew three heads. They made it clear that was not a place to enter lightly.
The team had barely made it through a few neighborhoods before a glint from an alley caught your eye – a mirror that hadn’t been destroyed yet! They were still in the Grim Gulf section of Dark Century Station. Hazel had no clue how often an unbroken mirror would come around but as part of her Nightlands education, Hawk reinforced the Nightlords’ stances on mirrors. Control them all. Break the ones you can’t control. Period. Knowing how rare this was Hazel took the opportunity to return home, but not before Hawk let her keep the radio she was given. She told them she’d return someday, and that radio was how you could contact them if they’re still around. She had made friends out of acquaintances. And they were the first people she’d ever met who were “like” her. She would hold onto them for as long as she could. Especially since they had the same problems she had. This doctor had to go down. He had some “splainin’” to do.
She made a mental note of the “Labyrinth” in Brisby Flats where Lord Rotiel had his giant tower. Then she said her goodbyes and wished them well. They would definitely meet again. Someday soon she hoped. The “Mirror walk” went smoothly, differently from her first time. She thought she might be able to take others through if she tried…but that was an experiment for another time. This strange new land was a brave new world and it beckoned her to come back. And return she would…