Already both Asian and European media have gathered to our little isle in the South Seas to cover the visit of Johnny Thunder. Badhnisia being a place of deep mystery and even deeper mysticism, we don’t get many visitors. I think the name is part of it. How does one sound out such an odd thing, much less spell it? But the journalists do not care about us — just about what new pratfall or spectacular display Johnny will provide for them.
But Johnny is more than that! The JSA realizes that, and so do we — do I. He saved us many times, and even changed our form of government, and now he’s returning to help us with the after-effects of the Crisis. And Badhnisia’s other greatest hero will be there.
You didn’t know Badhnisia had another super-hero produced out of its magic? Not many do, for I am many heroes. Yes, that’s right. I, Kiku, am many heroes. No, don’t give me that look!
My family is gone, to begin with. They died in a terrible storm several years before the Crisis. Oh, no, I do still miss them, but let’s just say that my culture doesn’t view death in quite the same grim way a Western materialist might. They are with me, in a way. My teacher took me in. He was a great… you would call him a wise man, perhaps. His name was Trire.
He raised me ’til I was thirteen, and then the red skies started. I can see I don’t have to explain that to you. It was a terrible time for the whole world. Trire wanted me to leave the enclave, to find some place of shelter, since the magic of the island could not resist the waves of antimatter.
“Kiku, you must go,” he told me. “I will help who I can, but you must leave for the main city! They have concentrated defense there.”
But I said to him, “I want to help, Trire. You taught me that by small and simple acts are great things brought to pass. Let my help join yours, simple as it is.”
Trire simply nodded once and said, “Stay in my circle, then. Walk only in the steps I mark.” He started ahead into the red storm, not looking back. I felt proud then — he trusted me that much! Unfortunately, that good feeling would not last long.
We were not long into the clearing near the enclave when we encountered trouble. Mala the younger was there with his friends. Mala was the son of another wise man of the same name, a caring, compassionate teacher who held that in this life we are all beggars, dependent on the world and on each other for sustenance and joy. Mala the younger did not share that view. His philosophy could be summed up thusly: “The poor are poor because they are lazy, and the lazy are weak and worthless!”
He had even gone so far as to join the King-Men, those who sought to restore the so-called royal lineage that had ruled the island before Johnny Thunder taught us democracy back in the 1950s. I had known he was not one who did good, but I was about to find out that the Crisis had brought out the worst in him. He stood on the high place of the enclave garden, dressed in fine fabric and wearing more jewelry than I’d seen celebrities wear on news broadcasts. He was delivering a speech.
“Enclave dwellers — or should I say sheep? — you dwell here learning about the invisible world, and what has it brought you? Nothing. Not even all the magic of our island will protect us from the Crisis — the very nature of the threat negates it! O thou fools and slaves to fat old men who claim to work mysteries! Where is your power?! Have the Unseen Ones rewarded your pathetic compassionate service?”
He smirked as he finished. The few people gathered in the garden cringed. I wanted to find something to throw at the preening idiot, but Trire caught my hand before I could throw a rotten melon that had somehow gotten into my hand. Ah, glad you found that funny. I was furious.
Trire stood forth and said, “Your words are lies, and you know it, Mala. It is true our magic cannot withstand the Crisis, but following the teachings of the wise and caring for those who need it has pleased the Unseen Ones. Their joy is ours.” Trire’s voice was high and clear. Some of the students grew teary-eyed in a sudden warm feeling that seemed to come with his words. As for Mala, he looked like he was going to be sick.
Mala screamed back at the wise man, “Fool, I say! We do not need joy, we need power! The magic may fail to protect us — no wonder at that — but there are sources outside the universe, outside the multiverse, that have powers that would make even the sacred Thunderbolt itself be as nothing!”
What was he speaking of, I wondered. Outside of reality? There was nothing beyond reality but emptiness, unreality. Oh, there were the Unseen Ones, but he couldn’t mean them. As I felt cold at a sudden thought, Mala confirmed my fears.
“I have contacted one more ancient than the antimatter itself!” he cried. “He is beyond it just as he is beyond matter. He will save us and make Badhnisia transcend the old mystery to a new one!”
His eyes were blazing, but somehow unfocused as he spoke. I felt master Trire’s hand grip mine tightly, but I did not feel comforted. Mala had lifted up his hands, and on them was… was a thing not even the mystery would touch.
Mala cried out, “Behold the yellow sign!”
Trire spoke one word at the sight: “Abomination.” His voice sounded dead. I feared we all soon would be.