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Thursday, March 7, 2024

The Twilight of the Gods: A Story of Mantra, Chapter 10



A story of Mantra and Black September

By Aladdin and Christopher Leeson 



"Just what do you expect to accomplish by coming here?" Tark asked suddenly.

"I'm here to find someone. We have reason to believe that a very powerful ultra is going to stop here soon."

"Are you working alone?"

I didn't want to tell "King Warstrike" too much. I had to be on guard. This wasn't the Tark I knew and wasn't sure if he was a good egg or a rotten one. Tyrants are notorious for double-dealing. "I'm working with a group from the Godwheel. A kind of super-scientific race of geniuses. They have information that the woman can help us, but it will be tricky handling her since she's been a loose cannon and has trouble accepting discipline and teamwork."

"I don't care about her. I have enough crazy ultra-women right here in L.A. to worry about. By the way, if this disaster didn't happen in your reality, what's going on in the America you know?"

"Where I am, Brandon is president."

"Brandon!" he exclaimed. "In this world, he's dead. But is there any chance that Yellowstone will go off back where you come from!"

"Anything's possible, I suppose. We've got a dirty Deep State back home, too. But now that I know the danger, I'm going to be doing my best to prevent it.

Then there came a tapping at the door.

"It's open!" Warstrike yelled.

A uniformed man entered with a little girl. I saw at a glance that it wasn't Evie.

"Daddy?" she said, looking at Warstrike.

"Shut the door behind you, Maverick," he told the guard. Then, to the girl, he said, "Come here, Jamie."


The tyke approached the king without fear, and then she noticed me.

This lady," the child began, "she's dressed like pictures of …"

"She's your aunt, Jennifer," her father told her, lying. "She's your mother's twin sister."

Jennifer? For some reason, I'd never like that name. If this Brandon knew that, it went to show that he had a rotten sense of humor.

The brown-haired youngster stood looking at me as if I were something marvelous. "I didn't know that Mommy had a twin."

"Ah, yes she did," Brandon said. "She was vacationing in Mexico and when she didn't come home, your mom and I thought she must have died. I never mentioned that you had an aunt Jennifer so the bad news wouldn't make you sad. But she's here now, so why don't you give your auntie a nice big hug?"

I knelt to make things easier for her. She came up and gave me a long, strong hug before easing a step back and looking into my face with wonder.

"Can I see what you look like without a mask?" Jamie asked.

I obliged.

"You look just like my mommy! And you also look like my sister Evie!"

"I never met your sister, Evie," I said. "But she can't be as pretty as you are!"

I couldn't help but wonder what, truly, was my relationship with this child. If her mother was my temporal clone, one could consider us identical twins That circumstance would truly have made me Jamie's aunt. I kind of liked the idea; since it made us close, but not so close as to create a messy relationship.

At that point, I looked to Warstrike. "Brandon, we've got to talk about serious things. Maybe Jamie shouldn't listen to them."

He nodded. "Maybe not. Jamie, I'm going to have the guard take you back to your room."

"Can I tell Evie and Gus about seeing Aunt Jennifer?" she asked.

Tark sent me a questioning look.

I said to the tyke, "Why not hold off for a little bit? I’d like give them the same kind of a fun surprise that I gave to you. What do you think?"

Jamie laughed and continued looking back at me while her dad led her to the door.

When Tark and I were alone again, I said, "Your Mantra must have been very different from me if she decided to marry you.

"Why? Am I so bad a catch?"

"Let's just say I'm still I'm a long way to go before I catch up with the Mantra you had."

Had? Damn, I hadn't put that right!

At least Warstrike wasn't smirking. "Even may lady had problems with the idea at first, but it was a forced decision. There was a baby coming."

"Perfect," I said sarcastically.

"Those were terrible times," he said. "We were becoming the de facto leaders of a city with a lot of very powerful and very traumatized people in it -- probably because we both had military experience. It was a lonely job. We had no choice but to shut people out emotionally so that no one would realize that the two of us were just about as messed up as everyone else. We didn't have anyone to turn to for support, except for each other."

"I get the picture," I said, not wanting to get into the subject of love and marriage.

"We lost so much when Mantra died. Nothing seemed to go right once we lost her."

"If she was like me, she was a great person. But just keep in mind that that other Mantra and I were two different people."

"How different are you?" he asked.

"Well, I’m the version who isn't going to jump into bed with you. No offense, but that's not where my head is at. Brandon Tark and I were just friends. Very good friends."

Tark and I had gotten along so well because he reminded me of my fellow knights of Archimage, whom I had worked with for so long. Now I could see that our relationship was one that I had to be very careful with.

The version of Tark in front of  me changed the subject. "Once Jamie talks to the other kids, I'm pretty sure you'll be seeing Evie. Of Gus, I'm not so certain. He's a hard kid to predict. What are you going to say to them if they drop in? They’re never going to buy into the auntie idea."

"It's best that I don't see them. I have a job to do. If I fail at it, history is going to change so much that the whole Big Bang might as well have never happened."

"Bing Bang? You come from the Dark Ages. When did you start believing in the Big Bang?"

"Not until the Twentieth Century, actually."

"Well, I used to believe in that scientific nonsense, too, but a lot of polluted water has flowed under the bridge since then."

"Ain’t that the truth?

"I just had a thought," Warstrike said. "Is there a possibility that you could go back in time and stop the Yellowstone thing?"

"Possibly, but it wouldn’t help my world and it wouldn’t help your world either."

"Why not?"

"Because changing past events doesn't change what's already happened. Meddling with past events will only create a clone timeline that will follow from any historical change. But the events that have already happened in other timelines are going to stay the same."

He scowled. "Well, aren’t you the good news kid!” He paused almost imperceptibly and then asked, “What about that woman you’re looking for? Have I ever heard of her, or does she come from outer space?"

"I don’t know if she ever existed in your world, but in my world she’s called Amber Hunt."

"Whoa! Amber Hunt? I know that name. She almost burned this planet to a cinder with gamma rays. How can an out of control nutcase save the Multiverse -- if there really is a Multiverse?"

"The people I'm working with think that she's salvageable. Horrible things happened to her and made her what she is. From all I can tell, she didn't start out bad. If there’s any part of her mind that isn’t crazy, we have find it and tap it."

"Well, horrible things happen to all of us," he said with a wry grin.

Then he stopped smiling.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I remember that converting energy is her big ultra power. Is it possible to describe Amber Hunt as a 'Flaming Woman'?"

"I suppose so. Why?"

"My daughter keeps dreaming about somebody she calls the Flaming Woman."

My brow furrowed. "Tell me more."

"Lately, Jamie's been saying things that make me think that she may have inherited my power of precognition."

"If she can predict the arrival of a 'Flaming Woman,' why haven't you done so, too?"

"You know how quirky my power can be." Then he looked up. "Or is your Tark different?"

"No, he's not different."

He shrugged. "Anyway, Jamie has been dreaming that a Flaming Woman will come and she's going to “take me away."

"What would Amber Hunt want with you?"

"I'm sure I don't know. Did she have some sort of relationship with Brandon Tark back where you come from?"

"None at all, as far as I know."

"If she shows up, doesn't it make sense that I should kill her before she kills me?"

I shook my head. "No! If you kill her, the whole universe is going to be lost. She’s the only ultra we know of who has the right ultra power to stop a creature as powerful as the one called Nemesis. As things stand, the future timelines tell us that she will partially impede Nemesis, but she'll arrive too late to stop the Multiverse from collapsing in a couple of centuries. Our hope is that we can capture Hunt and give her information that will make her more effective in battle."

"And you’ve seen all this by time-traveling?"

"Yes! I've seen that final battle. If it plays out the same way again, we're all doomed. Here’s the deal. My allies’ information tells us that the Amber Hunt who will be coming here will be the Main Branch version of Amber Hunt out of her proper place, just like I’m the Main Branch version of Mantra."

"This is hard for me to put my mind around it.”

You?” I said. “How do you think I feel?’

“Well, excuse me if I leave that problems I don't understand to you. What I need to ask is whether you can do anything to help us out here.”

"I wish I could help. As far as I understand the situation, a lot of good people on both sides have been acting wrongheadedly. I have no clue how to fix an implosion that’s been going on for years during a stopover that's only about an hour long! If you’re taking suggestions, would it help if you relinquished power?"

"If I did that, the whole city would be out for my throat. History tells us what happens to most fallen kings."

"Sad but true."

"Listen, I'll make you a deal."

"What kind of deal?"

"I'll let everyone know that some kind of Flaming Woman is coming very soon and she is to be subdued and captured, but not harmed. The trouble is that the rebels control most of the city. The rebels might get her, so you'll have to negotiate with the rebels before she shows up. It might help a little if you inform them that Hunt is going to be sent away with you, and that I’m not planning on using her as any sort of a weapon."

"That last part might help. There’s a lot of dug-in hatred around this city that can mess up everything. But we've been skipping around the crucial question," I said.

"What question?"

"Am I a prisoner here, or what? If you want me to talk to your enemies, you’ll have to give me freedom of movement. I've got a lot of loose threads to tie together and I can't do that from an interrogation cell, not even a convivial one."

"I see your point," he said forlornly. "But if I let you go, what will you do to...well, help my regime?"

"You shouldn't assume that I can do anything at all. All I can promise is to act as an honest broker. But the time that I can spend in this crazy place is limited. I still have plenty of ducks to get into a row."

The sad thing was that I was snowing him. The hour of failure for the Time Gem coming fast and there was nothing I could do about that. If I told Tark the hideous truth, it was just possible that he would throw off all restraint and do something that was apocalyptic and really stupid. Crazy in, crazy out.

"Mantra was the only person who never let me down," he declared resignedly. "It's torture looking at you. It's devilishly hard to remember that you're not the wife that I loved and cherished."

More than most people, I know how much the loss of a beloved mate hurts, but what could I do about it? “I appreciate the sentiment. But for now, what's next?"

"You're free to go. What do you need to get started?"

"First --"

My intent to speak was interrupted by another tapping on the door. I could feel a familiar bio-signature looming on the other side of it. A shiver ran through me. Was I up for this sort of poignant encounter?"

Warstrike went over and checked the security slot. Without saying anything, he opened portal.

Standing on the threshold was this universe’s version of Evie Blake.


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