by Dan Swanson
Chapter 28 — Smoke Gets in Your Eyes ####### CHAPTER 25
Bulletman was attacked from opposite sides by two flying creatures very similar to large bats. They were each about two feet long and very fast! Well, he was no slouch in the speed department himself, and he accelerated out from between them. He didn’t get a clear look, but he was left with the impression of claws and fangs. He turned to get a better look and his first impression was confirmed — claws and fangs and heading toward him again, this time trying to overtake him. When they realized he was faster than they were, they gave up chasing him and turned back toward Bulletwoman and Sandy. But they weren’t going to touch either of those ladies — not if Jim Barr had anything to say about it.
He did a loop and roll and was flashing back at them. He was sure they couldn’t possibly see him, but they must have had good hearing because they broke, one left and one right, just before he would have slammed into them. He rolled through another turn and came at them head-on. They didn’t seem to be as fast as he was and he was probably a lot stronger, so why bother with cat and mouse?
Both bats tracked him as he approached, their heads turning like radar dishes. He could see that both had their mouths open, and yet he couldn’t hear anything. But he was feeling sort of tired, no, more than ‘sort of’ tired, his eyes were so heavy he could hardly keep them open! The only thing that kept him awake was the air rushing past his face as he zoomed through the airspace that had just been vacated by the bats.
Jim Barr almost died in the next couple of seconds. He was saved only by his high speed, his costume and his super-metabolism. As he flashed past the two bats, they slashed at him with claws on their wings and their hind legs. One set of claws scraped his left cheek, barely missing his eye, but his face was the only part of his body not covered by his costume. The costume was made of Kevlar and was designed to stop bullets, and the claws couldn’t penetrate it. So he got away with only a few scratches on his face, and the stinging pain woke him up! Then he realized that his face was quickly becoming numb around the scratches. There must have been some kind of venom on the claws.
He fumbled with a pouch on his belt and pulled out a medicated cloth wipe, and wiped off his cheek. The scratches stung like hell from the disinfectant, which was a good sign — his superhuman metabolism was already fighting off whatever poison the bats were using. Lucky for him he didn’t wear shorts like Sue did, though — with poisoned cuts ripped deeply into both legs, the poison and the pain would probably have killed him.
What about his initial sleepiness, though? The bats must have been using ultrasonics on him. He had a defense against that, though — he adjusted the electronics in his helmet to filter out any ultrasonic noises. OK, time to have another go at those bat boys!
As he turned, not far away he saw Captain Thunder smash two glowing figures and they vanished — but the swords, maces and shields they had been using dropped to the deck. That could be just the advantage he needed in this fight! He quickly flew down and grabbed a ball and chain mace and a shield. then headed back for the bat brothers.
Meanwhile Bulletwoman and Sandy had problems of their own! There were four very human-looking warriors surrounding them. They looked very much alike and each had some kind of super power. They stood with their legs apart, pointing their arms at the two heroines, each blasting away! One was blasting a stream of fire, another was blasting ice at them, another was shooting lightning and the fourth was blasting with what seemed to be a laser.
Sandy had enclosed the two heroines in a dome of magical protection, and they were watching the four different attacks each splash off the dome — from the inside! It was definitely a fascinating sight, and Bulletwoman was looking forward to telling her husband about it. Meaning, of course, after she and Sandy kicked some butt!
“Sandy, is there any way your dome can reflect those blasts back at them? And I need to get out so I can fight back.”
“Sure, Sue, hold on a sec. ” She held her hands up, palms away, the thumbs and little fingers outstretched, forming right angles, the other fingers curled. She crossed her wrists above her head. A pinky or a thumb was pointed at each of her foes. She spun slowly in place, and instead of splashing from the dome, the blasts started to sweep around its surface. When she had made a half turn, she uncurled her fingers and dropped her hands to her sides. Each blast was now striking the dome, sliding around its surface 180 degrees, and then blasting outward again, and suddenly, each of their foes was blasted by one of his allies!
The various blasts suddenly ceased, and Sandy dropped her protective shield. Sue flashed outward at her top speed, ready to flatten any of those foes who was still standing, but they were all down. It couldn’t be that easy, could it?
As he flashed through the air, Jim whirled the spiked head of the mace into motion. He was faster than the bat things, and they were unable to dodge quickly enough — and they were quickly swatted out of the air, crumpling broken to the ground. It couldn’t be that easy, could it?
It sure seemed that way. It was quiet throughout that vast room, and the only things moving were the heroes. They quickly gathered together in a group — this place was dangerous and even heroes felt more comfortable in groups. Sandy was talking with Captain Thunder about a strangeness she felt around them.
“You know I’m sensitive to magic, Cap? This whole setup is weird; there is magic infused into everything. Even when I’m sure I’m looking at something familiar, I can feel magic in it. Like the things we would do with electronics? I can cast a spell that detects electricity, but I can’t just sense it, because it’s not a magical force (I guess). But the electricity that’s used in BattleWorld seems to be at least half magical! And the magic itself feels, oh, fresher, and more powerful, somehow.”
With the Wisdom of Nature at his disposal, and long experience with magic, Cap was able to make sense of that. “BattleWorld was built when the universe was much younger — and smaller. Magic energy was denser then, and it permeated everything much more strongly than it does now. BattleWorld is left over from that time, and magical conditions inside are more like the younger, smaller universe than the universe of today. How will this affect your magic?”
“So far,” she replied “… I haven’t really noticed any differences. Or, maybe…” she paused for a second’s thought, “… maybe my spells have been more successful than I would normally have expected. It’s hard to say. Bulletwoman has been giving me advice, and that helped my self-confidence — so that could be why, too. But I’ll tell you what — we aren’t done fighting yet. Something really weird is going on. LOOK!” She pointed at one of their fallen foes.
The being was not dead, or at least the fight had not killed it. But suddenly it was engulfed by a sickly yellowish-green flame. Startled exclamations from their fellows led them to look around, and in fact, every one of their erstwhile enemies was engulfed in the same yellow-green flame.
Suddenly Sandy screamed in pain. “I can’t stand it! They are being eaten alive and I can feel it!” She collapsed unconscious, but Bolt caught her before she hit the deck.
Captain Thunder, through his affinity for magic, could feel something of what had affected Sandy, and he shuddered. There was one final foe, preparing for them. A kind of vampire which fed on magical energy, the kind of magical energy that was released by the death of these poor beings. Nothing had died nearby in many millennia, and the vampire was initially weak, but it was able to gather enough left over magic from the battle to ignite first one of the vanquished foes, and then draw energy from that to ignite the rest.
The smoke from the various flames was drifting unnaturally, all of the plumes coming together, and where they met, something was growing…
Chapter 29 — The Magic Lightning Strikes!
The magic lightning struck, and Americon was transformed. The strange magic in the environment inside BattleWorld, amplified by the super-lightning rods, subtly changed the character of the magic lightning. Billy or Captain Marvel would have immediately noticed the difference, of course, but Americon had nothing to compare it to. He noticed that he felt much stronger and that all of the background aches and pains that he had become used to as he grew older were gone. He hadn’t felt this good in, what, 30 years maybe?
The first clue they had to the altered magic lightning was his new costume! American Marvel’s costume was a weird mixture of his own costume, and a standard red Marvel costume, with a high blue and yellow collar (!) and a blue cape covered with white stars. “Well, I’ll never get lost in a crowd in this outfit!” he quipped. “But I’ll never win any fashion awards for it, either! Hopefully, nobody but you guys will ever get to see it!”
(And all of us, of course, in the Photos section, Red Rocket folder!)
“Uh, guys, we should take these helmets off now.” Thad spoke up. “Don’t want the magic lightning diverted if one of the other Marvels really needs it, would we?” That was kind of interesting — apparently Thad really was telling the truth about not wanting the Power of Shazam. “And we don’t want one of them changing you back by mistake, either… er, what should we call you?”
“I’ve answered to Americon for almost 50 years,” he answered with a shrug. “No reason to change now!” Boy, even that shrug felt great! He turned and slammed his fist into the wall, and blasted a hole right through that magical lining, whatever it was. He reached in with his other hand and stretched the hole, and then got his feet on the rim, and stretched it some more. The weapon barrel lining was actively fighting him, trying to seal itself, but he easily held it open until his companions, carrying the unconscious Captain Marvel, passed through the wall and into a room on the other side.