The Paragons: Deus Ex Astra, Book 1, Chapter 1: The Black Lion

by CSyphrett, with Doc Quantum

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In England, the man known as the Black Lion drove to the train station while dressed as a civilian. He purchased a ticket and stepped aboard, going straight to his compartment, where he proceeded to stare out the window in thought and contemplate the events that had led up to this point. This thing was growing bigger than an urge for personal revenge. Things had been simpler when he had first thought of doing what he was going to do. Now he had stumbled across an assassination in progress.

There was only one weapon the Mars Council sold — or in this case hired out — that was simply called the Weapon. Everything else had a designation, but not the Weapon. The Black Lion knew he was pitting himself against the best killer in the world, and he debated whether he should just give it up or keep going.

The Americans had lost one of their commando teams — the Fightin’ Five, he believed they were called — in a fiasco in the 1970s caused by Donald Pierce and Bernard Spielman of the Mars Council, an illegal arms cartel operating internationally. Nothing he could do about Spielman, but Pierce was within reach. That would have to be enough. If he took down the Weapon, that would just be something extra.

The train rolled into a station in London, and the Black Lion got his bag and headed for the door. Now all he had to do was find the trio in a city of millions. Should be simple enough, he thought as he vanished into the crowd.


In a quaint little antique shop elsewhere in London, the shop owner felt a chill in the air. He pulled a scarf tighter around his neck and went to turn the heat up on the thermostat, which was a strange thing to do in the month of August. He was startled to see a very large, muscular blonde man in a form-fitting blue suit materialize right before his eyes in the shop. The effect was not unlike a transporter beam he had once seen in an American speculative fiction show.

A strange customer indeed, the shop owner decided, but he ignored his prejudices as he put his copy of The Goblin’s Diary aside. “Er, what can I do for you?” he asked, determined not to be ruffled by the man’s odd entry. He was a weird one, but several of his customers were just as strange. That was what happened when you specialized in the world’s rarest objects.

“You are Edward Constant,” the strange figure said, stating it as a fact rather than as a question.

“Y-yes, I am he,” replied the shop owner.

“I am the Super-Wizard, and I have need of that,” the figure said, pointing to a picture frame holding scraps of parchment under glass.

“That’ll be two pounds,” Constant said, unfazed.

“Please take it down,” said the Super-Wizard.

Without further protest, Edward Constant retrieved a stepladder from a closet and took the frame down. He handed it to the large man in blue but was astonished when the strange figure smashed the glass out of the frame by slamming it on the counter.

“See here,” Constant said in protest. “That was valuable.”

“The world is more valuable,” said the Super-Wizard, placing his hands over the fragments. The air shimmered as Constant watched the parchment knit itself together.

A tiny spark of light glittered above the paper, then more and more sparks appeared until a column of them began to rotate in place. A vaguely human face arose to the surface of the lights. The face seemed to be listening, even though it didn’t have ears. It nodded to itself — or perhaps to the Super-Wizard — then exploded outward, fading as it came apart.

“What just happened here?” Constant asked.

“I have planted a seed, and I will plant many more,” said the Super-Wizard, turning and heading for the door.

The motes of light released from the frame searched the length and breadth of the British Isles. They finally settled on a young man originally from the Welsh Marches, a boat-builder working on the keel of a boat in Cardiff, Wales. His name was Jock Gruffudd, and he was a big man with a barrel chest and hands wider than a ham.

The little sparks of light fell on the Welshman’s dark brown curly hair, and he froze in place as memories of other times filled him, tugging him away from his work with gentle insistence. The boat builder dropped his rag, listening with a new understanding. He tensed and vanished from the boat yard with an incredible burst of speed.

Someone had asked for the legendary Jack o’ Kent to return to take up the fight against the darkness. It was his greatest challenge since he had thrown stones with the Devil, and it was a challenge he would win. He was a wizard and the strongest man in the world, and he would stay to fight for his island nation.


The Black Lion wandered London’s East End for a few hours, dressed in his information-gathering uniform and lion’s head mask. He knew some people from his days in the field, so to speak. One of them was sure to lead him to Pierce. That occupied one part of his mind. The other part was on who the Weapon’s target could be. It would have to be someone important, someone high enough to cause chaos throughout Britain. The Weapon was the Rolls Royce of killers, and wasn’t cheap by any means.

The Scottish commando located a pub on his list and went inside. The patrons regarded him strangely because of the black mask he wore that was shaped like a lion’s head. One even got up and tried to run away when he saw who was surveying the room.

The Black Lion saw that he couldn’t push through the crowd between himself and his prey. His eyes fell on the wooden barriers separating the room into smaller areas, and he hopped onto a table, then on a rail, and proceeded to run along the rail faster than his intended victim could knock people out of his way on the floor. He came to the end of the rail, leaped and grabbed a chandelier, and swung himself just over some of the customers’ heads, letting go as the man tried to turn and draw a weapon. His foot slammed the gunman toward the bathrooms and rear exit. The Scottish commando landed lightly, snatching the pistol from where it fell before the man could try for it.

The gunman got up and started for the back door again. He was propelled toward the exit by the masked man’s booted foot. The gunman slammed against the door, and then the commando’s hand clamped around his neck, half-dragging, half-carrying him out into the alley behind the tavern.

“Hello, Benny,” said the Black Lion, holding the man by his throat. “Where is Pierce?”

“I don’t know,” choked out Benny. “I haven’t seen him in a year or more.”

“Who else would he go to for weapons or other contraband?” the Black Lion asked, squeezing a little.

“Fagin in the Square,” said Benny. “Fagin’s started dealing to the IRA and gets some type of discount from the Mars Council. He’s supposed to be doing drops all the time.”

“Where is he?” asked the masked man.

“I don’t know,” said Benny. The Black Lion squeezed a little tighter, a little longer. “He’s been living with some tramp named Victoria or something!” the makeshift informant squealed.

“Any other name?”

“Not that I know of,” said Benny. “She’s a redhead. Amazon. Can’t miss her.”

“Better not,” warned the Black Lion. “If I come back, I’ll squeeze your neck until your eyeballs pop out.” He released Benny into the rubbish bin. By the time the stool pigeon dug his way out, the mystery man had faded away like a bad dream.

Benny didn’t know what to do, but he had decided that he should leave London for a small amount of time. He could feel the future bruise wrap around his neck in a painful way. This couldn’t be the same man as the late John MacGraw, he was sure, but the methods were so comparably alike to urge Benny out of sight before he suffered more than a bruised neck and sore throat. He headed for the mouth of the alley and vanished into the crowd as he went to get his things.


The Black Lion paid a visit to Fagin first, where he acquired the names of several of Pierce’s business associates, and he visited each of them in turn. One man dropped the name of the local Mars Council contact after the commando broke one of his fingers. The Scot saw that man next. He was told that Pierce had gone to a meeting and wasn’t expected to return.

The masked man’s eyes fell on the newspaper on the man’s desk. He noticed the man flinch when he directed his attention to it. It was a photograph of Prime Minister Thatcher giving a speech during the red skies of July.

Leaving the man with broken hands, the Black Lion hurried from the shop, having had a sudden idea of where Pierce or his Weapon would be. All he wanted at the moment was Pierce, but the Weapon had to be stopped also.

The Black Lion hurried along the busy streets of London and reached the Parliament Building, slipping past its security with the ease of practice. Now all he had to do was figure out where the Weapon would strike and stop him.

The Scottish commando surveyed the room quickly as the Members of Parliament came in and went to their seats. No one seemed to notice the man wearing a black lion’s head mask and green fatigues as he made his way up to a visitor’s balcony. This wasn’t where he would strike from if he had been hired for the job. He would simply use a bomb and kill them all. Walking around the balcony area, he pulled off his mask and placed a beret on his head as he began inspecting the area where the ministers gathered. Where would he do it?

“Sir,” called one of the ministers’ aides from below. “What are you doing up there?”

“Security check,” said the Black Lion, showing the man the unit patch on his shoulder. “Forty-Second Infantry Brigade.”

“What are you checking for?” asked the aide suspiciously.

“A bomb,” said the Black Lion, continuing his inspection.

“What?” said the man.

“You heard me,” said the Black Lion, standing at the podium where Mrs. Thatcher would give her speech. He knew that the Prime Minister was in the building, and he knew the Weapon could attack from a roof outside at any point. It could happen at the residence on 10 Downing Street or in the Prime Minister’s office here in the building. On the other hand, he could just be on a wild goose chase.

He went over the podium anyway, and soon enough he found a large package under the stand. Drawing it out carefully, he opened the paper with a pen knife. The minister’s aide backed up suddenly as the Black Lion quickly disarmed the bomb by pulling the detonator out and cutting off the timer.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” said the Black Lion, quickly walking from the room. He again skirted security and went outside without much of a problem.

He checked the area quietly and surely until he found a vantage point that would appeal to him. He went into the building and headed up the stairs, pulling on his black lion’s head mask as he went. He stepped out into the hall near the elevator and quietly began searching offices facing the Parliament, eventually detecting voices in the last one in the hall. He smiled as he heard one mention that the bomb was late. He kicked open the door and rushed inside.

The Weapon and Donald Pierce stood by the window, turning to face the Black Lion. The assassin drew a pistol while the Scottish commando was still crossing the room. The masked man raised his hand and fired his wrist launcher at the assassin.

A flash of light surrounded the Weapon as he ducked the rubber bullet, firing with his pistol. The Black Lion felt one of the slugs crease his arm while the other cut into his body armor and sliced his side.

Pierce threw up his hands in surrender, but the Weapon had already escaped. Still, one out of two wasn’t bad at all.


The figure known in legends as Jack o’ Kent now called himself Jock o’ Kent in his current incarnation. After all, since he was really a Welsh boat-builder named Jock Gruffudd, it didn’t make much sense to call himself Jack, did it?

Although Jock o’ Kent was a wizard, he had never been one to walk around in robes or carry a magic wand. That kind of business was best left to the dabblers in magic who enjoyed posing as powerful sorcerers, such as the typical clientele of Edward Constant’s shop in London. Jock was far more powerful than they, and not merely because of his brute strength. He had a wizard’s clairvoyance, and he knew when his land was being threatened.

That was what had brought Jock o’ Kent this day to Aberdeen, Scotland, in the twinkling of an eye. There a thin man dressed in a ridiculous costume was directing a twenty-foot-tall red giant to break into a bank by destroying the building with its hands. He now paused when he saw the huge figure leap into his midst from out of the sky as if from thin air.

Jimmy Newman was little more than a two-bit crook, and was startled to find any superhuman opposition to his plans, but he also knew he had the power to stop anyone, thanks to a device that he’d bought from the American super-villain Doctor Spectro. He was still toying with the proper super-villain name to call himself, but he’d more or less settled on Color Man.

“Crush him,” Newman and his giant said with one voice.

Jock o’ Kent smiled grimly as he waited, his beefy arms folded as if impatient to get this over and done with.

The red giant brought a huge fist down on top of the new hero. Newman smiled for a moment, expecting to see this hero crushed flat into the pavement where he stood.

Then he gulped as he realized that the hero had not been hurt by the blow, after all. Indeed, he had caught the hand and held it effortlessly over his head, taking a moment to yawn loudly.

“If that’s the best ye got, laddie, you’d best have stayed home this mornin’,” said Jock o’ Kent.

Jimmy Newman backed up, nearly tripping over his own legs as he directed his creation to continue to press down as hard as it could. But he soon began to smell something burning, and realized that his device was overloading.

With a yelp, Newman took the still-hot projector off, passing it from one hand to the other like a hot potato, even as he kept directing his big red giant to crush his foe.

That was when the projector exploded, sending the would-be Color Man to the ground. Darkness claimed him as he heard the sound of laughter.

Jock o’ Kent picked up the remains of the device and wondered if Constant might want to take a look at it in exchange for a tip. After all, there might be more of these kinds of devices floating around in Britain, just waiting to be snatched up by would-be world conquerors like this poor fellow. Constant wasn’t exactly a friend, but he could be useful as an information source sometimes.

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