Going Up

Deep beneath the earth, the Malevolence shifted. The Timeless Evil's slumber was disturbed. Trapped for so long a time, it was weakened, tired. The Formless One sent forth a tentative probe, extending itself towards the noise, the vibration. It recoiled at the sensation of the seal above. But this time something was different.

The workman swung the sledge once more. The weakened rock gave way. The large hammer flew from his grip, disappearing into the hole.

"See, I told you there was a void back here." The workman told the other, while he kicked a heavy boot, clearing a larger opening in the rock. He peered through, the light on his helmet illuminating the small cavern. The machines had done an efficient job digging the tunnels for the new trains.

"There you are." The workman reached in and retrieved his sledge. Pulling his head and the tool out of the hole, he noted to his companion. "Yea, mark it down, we're going to have to reinforce this one also." They moved on.

He had failed to notice the aged pattern on the floor of the small cavern. The lip of the round stone lid fit the hole in the cavern's floor tightly, carefully chiseled for its purpose. Except where the large hammer had opened up a crack between two antiquated glyphs upon its surface.

The Dark Beast roared and extended itself towards the sliver of light. Formless, invisible and silent, it rose, leaving the aged bones of the last vessel. It escaped through the now-impotent seal that had imprisoned it so long ago. It knew freedom.

The moment the seal was broken, the shriek of alarm had gone out. Traveling the ether, it signaled the ancient order of holy men high in the mountains that had been the first to imprison the one they called Bringer of Death, World Burner, Consumer of Souls. Many years, miles and lives they had sacrificed to bury and seal the evil beneath the earth, far from their home. And now, long after their order was dead and gone, and the knowledge of it dead with them, It was once more free.

The Foul One roared again, more weakly, as it rose through the rock and soil and emerged, invisible, upon the streets of a strange foreign city. This was not the first time. It, the Eternal Blackness, personification of hatred and fear, had traveled the galaxy, slowly consuming the peoples of worlds, drinking of their minds and fears, gathering the strength to travel to the next one. This world would fall before it in turn, and it would enjoy tormenting these primitives all the more as punishment for its imprisonment.

The feeble souls upon the street felt a chill pass through them as it moved, hunting, seeking a form to occupy, one which would host it while it fed. The Fiendish Wickedness sought a simple form, something it could control without effort. Later, once it was fed, it could move to a proper host.

It found it. A towering edifice, surely a center of worship. A tower of steel and glass and strange currents of power. The dark force slipped into it, seeking the heart of the building, the device at its core, and with the last of its waning strength, took control. Now it would feed. Feed upon the fears and lusts and hatreds of its victims. Regain its strength, take a stronger form, and eat their hearts from their bodies.

The businessman was running late. He jumped into the elevator and tapped the button for the top floor. The button obediently lit up. Anxiously, he hopped on the balls of his feet, urging the doors to close. They obliged, but only too slowly.

As the elevator began to rise, the other buttons began to illuminate. The second floor, the third floor, all of the numbers soon glowed of their own accord.

"Oh, come on!" The businessman whined, stabbing the button for his destination repeatedly. The elevator called at the second floor. The man urged the doors closed with an angry thumb. Slowly, the elevator closed its doors and moved again.

"No!" the trapped passenger screamed, pounding the buttons in frustration, as he realized he would be making every stop on the way up.

The Lamentable Titan noted the response. It drew a whisper of nourishment from the frustration it inflicted.

Later that same day, a trio of passengers boarded the elevator, mid-building.

"Is that," a woman paused, cocking an ear upwards. "Yes, I think it is. That is a Michael Jackson song. Done up in muzak style."

"I think you're right," another passenger confirmed. "Horrible."

"Dreadful," they agreed, rolling their eyes in an expression of their shared suffering.

The Infernal Conveyance was displeased. There was no real fear. One of the passengers was secretly enjoying this torment, it could feel his lowest appendages, tapping along in time with the confusing rhythms. This pained the Malevolent Force and it immediately stopped at the nearest floor and opened its doors, refusing to take them any further. After fruitless button-pushing, the passengers exited, but not before the doors abruptly closed, clipping one of them on a shoulder. The Ultimate Malefactor sipped at the dribble of momentary discomfort.

The Depraved Nightmare, at its next stop, came up a bit short of the floor, tripping up a passenger as he boarded. The embarrassment and hostility emitted by the man fed the Wanton Destroyer's hunger for a full three floors of travel. It regretted letting this victim go free.

At the end of the day, the building emptied and began to sleep. The Malodorous One rested and recounted its deeds. These minute offerings of pain and suffering were insufficient. The feeding would take many years. The Perverse Tormentor grumbled to itself, frustrated. How long must it suffer these indignities before having the strength to take a proper, sentient form and lay waste this world?

The Heinous Lethargy sent forth a tendril of thought. It had sensed another power during its travels. It sought it out.

Yes, the Blackness of Being thought, as it touched the other. This one has great power. The feeble souls of this world curse at it mightily, more so than they ever do this simple provider of elevation. The victims it desired howled at this other, smaller device all of their hours. They would alternately beat upon it angrily then lavish great love and affection upon it, begging its forgiveness. Truly this was the ultimate form of worship. The Monstrous Nightmare resolved itself to gather enough strength to enable it to make the leap to this strange new body and to master its powers of torment and agony.

Lovingly it admired from afar the alien writing-replication device. It longed for the power of the curious, foul ink it spat forth. It anticipated the day it had strength enough to move and take this one as its new form, feeding upon the torment it could inflict with simple high-pitched squeals and cryptic messages. To control their writings would be to control their very minds!

The Scarlet Hood

Catherine flew up the steps to grandmother's apartment. Not literally. Not in the this outfit, she thought. The delicate blouse, modest slacks, and short heels hindered her motion. But she rushed anyway. The scribbled phone message on her newsroom desk conveyed subtle urgency, and grandmother had not been well of late. A short taxi ride and ten flights of stairs were now behind her.

"Hi, Carlo," Catherine waved at the first door on the landing, propped slightly ajar. The eyes peering through the crack were bright and little fingers waved back at her. Moving along to grandmother's door, she tried the knob. It was unlocked, as usual.

"Grandmother, I've told you to keep your door locked. This isn't the same old neighborhood anymore." Catherine scolded loudly as she looked around. "Grandmother? Where are you?" She dodged around the floral-print couch and into the bedroom.

"Cathy!" Grandmother called out from the bed. "You came so quickly." She raised a hand to greet her granddaughter.

"Of course I did. The message sounded important," Catherine moved to the side of the bed, leaning in to take grandmother's hand. She stopped short before giving grandmother a kiss on the cheek. Something seemed wrong. Catherine's senses were telling her something. She paused and studied the old woman laying before her.

"Grandmother, your nails. They are so long. Perhaps we should visit your lady to," Catherine paused, scrutinizing the hand she held. It was warmer than it should be.

"All the better," the sweet woman's elderly voice began. She paused, as if gathering her strength. Her voice dropped to a fierce baritone, "All the better, to kill you with!" The sheets and blankets flew into the air, obscuring the old woman as she leapt from the bed and attacked.

Catherine threw up her arms, defending herself from the assailant's relentless blows. Through the blur of flailing arms, she saw the body before her changing. "You!" she shouted as the villain's telepathic illusion faltered. The bulging, hairy creature continued its assault.

The surprise attack had Catherine on the defensive. Her mind reeled. Her secret identity was blown! Grandmother was, where? And the sleeves of her favorite blouse were being shredded as her arms flew, deflecting the vicious claws. Her forearms, without their armored braces, were going to be sore in the morning.

Manwolf howled as he gained the advantage and threw Catherine across the apartment. "Not so happy to see grandmother now, are you?" Manwolf growled as she hit the wall. "The Scarlet Hood, we meet again, for the last time!" He chucked as she fell to the floor. "And this time, the city's beloved crimson crusader is helpless. What will you do, without your uniform and your clever little devices? Your true face is exposed, and you are helpless as I destroy you!" He leapt at her, his fangs bared, crossing the room in one powerful movement.

Catherine darted out of her foe's path in the blink of an eye, and with two swift kicks, launched her heels at supersonic velocity. She was still spinning in the air as one of the shoes connected, hitting him on the snout. It was his turn to be momentarily stunned.

Planting her feet, Catherine shouted at her arch-nemesis. "Where's my grandmother? What have you done with her?" Her hand flinched, reaching for her utility garter, but stopped as she realized how unprepared she was without her uniform and tools of the trade.

"She is safe," he growled. "For now," he added as they circled one another in the tiny space. The air was filled with a rain of lace doilies, thrown into the air by the combatants' inhuman speed. Grandmother's candy dish, the one from Catherine's earliest memories of grandmother, lay in pieces upon the floor, mingling with the dry, pink candies.

"How will the Daily Interloper ever print the story of your demise? Their precious hooded avenger, gone! And with her, their star reporter, mysteriously vanished as well? I wonder how long it will take them to put it all together." Manwolf taunted, sarcasm dripping between his fangs almost as fast as his saliva did.

He's right, Catherine thought. I'm completely exposed. Surviving this battle will be the easy part. The job, the quiet apartment, the generous, anonymous corporate funding, all of it gone in an instant. Not to mention that this outfit is a total loss, she thought, looking down at herself, seeing her clothing torn and dirtied.

She longed for her uniform. The skin-tight bodysuit covered her completely, yet at the same time, left nothing of her athletic, twenty-nine year-old body to the imagination. Late twenties body, she reminded herself. Never twenty-nine. But the durable, ceramolastic material could take a beating. The topcoat, complete with hood and cowl, did double duty, concealing her identity and hiding the embarrassment she felt when the men stared at her body.

Of course, they were usually also sobbing with fear and relief when she met them. Good men were hard to find when you spent your time plucking them from burning buildings or crumpled rail cars.

"I thought you would have red hair," Manwolf taunted, interrupting her introspection with dripping fangs. "I wasn't expecting a brunette." His tongue darted wetly around his mouth as he leered at the unmasked crimson crusader.

Is that beast going to stop hitting me and hit on me? Catherine wondered. "Unfortunately for me, I've been able to see you clearly in all of our previous encounters. Still not mastered the bathing skills have we?" Catherine threw back at the beast.

They renewed their battle. Grappling, they took turns attempting to throw each other, damaging the apartment beyond repair in their struggle. Manwolf won this round, throwing his lithe opponent through a window.

Catherine's body slammed into another apartment building down the block. A shower of smashed brick rained down upon the sidewalk below as she righted herself. Hovering high above the street, she willed her eyes to magnify her vision of grandmother's windows, seeking her opponent. She spied the barrel of a familiar device. "Shi-" she began, as Manwolf fired his Moltenizer.

He howled with victory as he pulled the trigger. Catherine wasn't there when the energy pulse slagged the crushed side of the building into molten goo.

Manwolf peered out, panting, eager to see the champion's helpless, broken body falling to earth. To his side, a rain of glass accompanied Catherine's body as she rocketed in through another window, lancing his body with her own at bullet speed.

The pair crashed through grandmother's apartment and through a wall into the next. They continued, their momentum smashing them through thin walls and sturdy appliances, stopping only when they hit the outside wall on the other side of the building. The building's brick face bulged outward, but held. Manwolf groaned and slipped into unconsciousness, beaten.

Wearily, Catherine stood. She looked around. "Hi, Carlo," she once more acknowledged the child that lived down the hall. Carlo and his mother were cringing in the corner. "Don't worry, Carlo. It's just me, Catherine. I'm really very sorry about this. I'm sure we can," Catherine was cut off by the screams of Carlo's mother, scooping him up to flee the scene.

Catherine sighed. The whole secret identity thing was definitely over.

She turned and ran back through the debris, sprinting through the ragged holes in the building's interior, her bare feet crunching on bits of drywall and cinderblock. Reaching grandmother's bedroom, she searched. She found grandmother, bound and gagged, in the closet. "Cathy! What happened to you? Are you hurt?" grandmother exclaimed as she was unbound.

"No, I'm fine, grandmother. Are you well?"

"Of course I am." Grandmother stated, straightening herself. She then blushed and waved her hands at Catherine. "Cover yourself, dear!"

Catherine looked down and saw her blouse and slacks, shredded, hanging from her in faint ribbons. The practical ensemble hadn't been made for close combat and wall crashing. Her undergarments were exposed and also in great distress. There were good reasons for armored uniforms in her business, she reminded herself. But they were just so difficult to conceal under casual businesswear.

Well, unless you're that tart Gretel, out there championing on the west coast, Catherine thought. No costume was too skimpy for that slut. And the way she and that brother of hers got on. Siblings shouldn't kiss like that, not in public, not ever. Catherine shivered at the memory of their behavior at the last Champions Gathering.

Grandmother gasped as she left the bedroom and saw the full scope of the damage to her modest apartment.

"Do you remember when I was little, and you gave me that little red riding coat with the hood?" Catherine asked, while fishing a spare robe out of grandmother's closet.

"Yes, of course. You loved that little coat." Grandmother toed a pile of debris with a slippered foot, sighing.

The sound of sirens announced the arrival of the authorities. Catherine would leave the trussing and transport of Manwolf to them this one time. She finished tying off the robe as she joined grandmother.

"And do you remember back when I was just starting with the paper, when I broke that story about the nuclear plant?"

"Yes, of course, dear. The award party was quite nice." Grandmother turned and smiled at Catherine. She reached up to tug at Catherine's hair, attempting to untangle the battle damage.

"Well, there was more to that story than was published. Something happened. I had to trade the old hood in for a new model. Come on, let's pop over to my place and get me some new clothes. Then maybe some coffee. This is going to take a while to explain." Catherine scooped up her surprised grandmother and flew her slowly out of the apartment.