The yellow sign. Mala was right in one thing — there are powers beyond our universe, beyond any universe, that touch or become imprisoned in it from time to time. The mad or the evil sometimes make bargains with them, but even demons fear to make deals with such beings, for the only joy those outsiders feel is annihilation. Mala had actually spoken to such a thing. I actually felt sorry for him. Humans who touch that are never long for any sort of existence. As Mala’s friends gathered by him, I saw the same crazed look in their eyes.
Mala himself seemed exultant as he said, “It was when I realized that this Crisis was proof that in the end the world matters for nothing — that all one can do is fill one’s desire before oblivion — that Him Who Is Not to Be Named found me! Chose me! View the yellow sign, sheep, and feed us the energy needed to bring him to us! The time is right — the Crisis has weakened his prison! He is beyond the anti-verse — will make our island, our world beyond it, too! Look, all! Have you seen the yellow sign?!”
I had averted my eyes the moment I recognized it. I still felt my mind reeling as I tried to squelch the memory of the… the emptiness that radiated from the sign — all it seemed to be was devouring, then emptiness. Trire strode away from me, and the enclave dwellers were panicking, while some were screaming.
“Hastur! The Unspeakable One!” someone screamed.
I dared to look again. Master Trire was before the madman and his cultists, and he was radiant. I gasped in awe at the sight of him.
Trire pointed his finger at Mala and commanded him to, “Leave. Leave the island, leave the universe. I send you away. I send you–”
Suddenly, the wise man stooped in the midst of his banishment spell. It was becoming horrific in the garden. What was making it horrific? The cloth. Yes, I said the cloth. Bits of clothing, scraps from the poor dwelling, even my own sash — which took three years of my life away when I felt it writhe against me — were flying towards the high place. They were collecting themselves into a rough shape, then a definite form.
Trire barked a word of power, and the Unseen Ones formed a haze around me and the rest of the faithful. That was good, for the cloths had now twisted themselves into a giant form — a manlike shape. It changed, growing dark and overpowering. Mala’s friends were gibbering, and Mala himself was knelt down as if in prayer — or saluting royalty. That was appropriate, in a way. The King in Yellow had entered our sacred enclave. The Crisis had been destroying the Earth, but Mala sought to give it to one who would do much worse.
Master Trire barked another command, and we were sent away, but not before I saw the avatar of Hastur crush and choke several of Mala’s friends with its waving robe of tattered cloth.
Trire spoke a message into my mind: “I am sending you all to the city. I will hold the king off, send him away if I can. Get the other wise men. We need help. The avatar must be destroyed.” Then his presence was gone.
“It’s not fair!” I cried out to the radiance I traveled in. “Master Trire will be killed! Those in the wilds near the enclave were defenseless. The Crisis has weakened us enough without having to fight Hastur!” I sobbed. “Unseen Ones, keepers of the mystery, there is not enough time to warn and plan. He needs help now! I give myself. I will do anything.”
Then I felt a pull, and I could perceive a new presence. Was it Trire? No, it was definitely not Trire. It was someone — or something — from the mystery.
It spoke to me in a voice that I can only called indescribable: “Kiku, we know the trials. Permission is granted for us to give you something, if you choose. While we are forbidden and limited by our being entirely of spirit and intelligence, you are not. Daughter of Badhnisia, will you take a source of power?”
“Power?” I asked, and soon I received an answer.
“It is not magic — it is beyond that. It is alien and strange, but things like it have done much good on another Earth.” Suddenly, I perceived the last thing I had expected to see. Want to guess what the holy Unseen Ones offered me? This. Yes, it does look like a dial. It is.
“This dial is part of an ancient mystery,” it said. “If you make it your own, it will allow you to become many heroes — some potent, some clever, others simply unique. But beware, Kiku — the effects only last for an hour at a time. And, worse, you will be greatly tempted by this thing. It may destroy you one day, or you may use the power wisely and bless Badhnisia and the world.”
It was one of the hardest decisions I’d ever made, but also the best, when I said, “I accept.”
I felt the presence near again. It felt warm. Then I was back at the enclave, and Master Trire, Mala, and the tatterdemalion monster were still there. I took a deep breath and started to dial as the voice had instructed me. “H-E-R-O!”
It was a moment a Westerner would call a key moment in my life. I was gone, replaced by another. No, I don’t mean I developed another personality. Granted, that’s usually the case when mortals face avatars of beings like Mala dealt with. I had become the White Sorceress. Ah, I see you recognize that name. Other than Inferno and Lightning Lass, it’s one of my favorite forms. I suddenly knew that I was a tall, slender sorceress of a strange pallor, and that with a wave of my hand I could heal poor Trire’s wounds. I did, then sent him to safety.
The battle started. I cannot properly describe it. That creature came from a place of such broken symmetries. Yes, you’re right, it’s better that you don’t know that part. Soon, the King in Yellow was burning, nothing more than a pile of rags. Poor Mala was not any easier to deal with.
“Witch! Foul witch!” he screamed, clawing at me. I let him, since he could not hurt that form. “I have nothing l-left now! H-He promised me to transcend the Crisis! I’ll summon him again! He’ll save us a–”
I had to do something that I now hate myself for at times. I made him look at his dead friends. It broke his madness… for a while. I still visit him at times at the hospital. Why should I hate him? Yes, he did something horrible, but I would say he’s paid for it greater than any punishment I could give.
During and after the Crisis, Badhnisia had a hero again. It had many, even with Johnny Thunder nowhere around.
Lightning Lass, the Sorceress, Inferno, the Green Tiger… even the Mighty Maid for two seconds. The unpredictable nature of the dial makes some of the transformations goofy. Don’t even ask about the Flying Buttress! Yes, I still look for the joy in life. The Crisis was horrible, but it’s also made our lives sweeter in a way. We appreciate our world more than ever now.
Well, it was nice talking to you. This was my first interview, and since I don’t have a secret identity, the secret of Badhnisia’s new heroes is now solved. I must go now. H-E-R-O!
Roy Saxonfield, reporter for the Daily Star, watched open-mouthed as the young Badhnisian girl became a shining silver woman. The woman smiled, then flew up into the sky.
“Call me Radiance!” she shouted before zooming off like a comet.
Roy turned to Biff, the photographer and shouted, “Why didn’t you take any pictures?!”
“Because I thought she was j-just some crazy island chick! Don’t worry, Roy. Badhnisia’s not that big an island. And at least you got her story down on tape!”
“I didn’t turn on the recorder. I thought she was loopy, too.” Roy slumped to the ground, realizing that he’d let yet another story fall through his fingers. His cousin Delbert, a TV reporter who was currently on the plane to Badhnisia to cover Johnny Thunder’s return, would have the last laugh at his idiot cousin once more when he arrived.
A young boy walking down the path to join the rest at the Badhnisian Airport wondered why two grown foreign men were seated by the roadway, crying their eyes out.