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Wednesday, May 8, 2024

The Twilight of the Gods: A Story of Mantra, Chapter 12



A story of Mantra and Black September

By Aladdin and Christopher Leeson 



The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become. Share this Quote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The moment one definitely commits oneself,
Then Providence moves too.
Whatever you think you can do,
Or believe you can do, begin it.
Action has magic, power, and grace.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


I found Tark in the room outside. He summoned me with a hand signal and led me to a private corner where we sat down.

"Shouldn't we be doing something?" I asked.

"We are. I sent my chamberlain, Nicolas Lone, to make contact with the rebels. I want him to arrange a truce that will give you a chance to talk to them."

"Should I know Nicolas Lone?" I asked.

"Maybe not. He used to be that anti-mob avenger, Solitaire. He was the son of L.A.'s top mobster, but because he was injured he was given some ultra wetware in surgery. It saved his life, but maybe it did something to his head, too. He used the ultra powers he gained to become a nighttime avenger with a beef against the mobs -- especially his father's."

Not being interested in Mr. Lone, I started asking Brandon questions about Gus, whom I hadn't seen yet. He had a sour streak in him and didn't work hard at his studies. I was interested in finding out what sort of young man he had grown up to be.

"He's handy with computers, databases, and analysis," Warstrike replied. "We don't have much of a tech department here, but Nicolas Lone works with Gus and Lone has some big league technical ability."

"As a boy, Gus was good at violent video games," I said.

"He has more than that on the ball now, but you might not like the job I've given him."

"Is he a soldier?" I asked.

"You mean like his mother? No, he's tasked with gathering information on people. He searches old data bases to find out whether anyone we work with has any troublesome red flags in his past."

"Are the red flag people marked for execution?" I asked pointedly.

"Not always. Once an enemy, not always an enemy. People with their brain twisted by politics can usually be flipped more easily than can the common man."

"Just don't make a killer out of him," I said firmly.

"Why? You've been killing for more than a millennium and a half?"

"I have, and I thought I was doing the right thing, but sometimes I acted on bad information. I want my son to have a clear conscience."

"I want the same for Jamie. Don't worry; I won't push your boy to think that killing is a good thing."

It was just then that Nicolas Lone came in from outside. He had the kind of face that some women might like -- if they were keen on walking close to the edge. He wasn't ugly, but the gangster's son had a certain look that told me that he was a dangerous man. I couldn't help but think that his face was a mask hiding something hard and deadly. And it was more than just the fact that he was packing.

He addressed Warstrike: "Our truce negotiator is back. He's set up a parley with Mantra."

"That was fast work!" Brandon replied.

"Well, the rebels must have been interested to hear that Mantra was back!"

"When's the meeting?"

"You said we didn't have time to waste. The deal is that Mantra's party will go to the spot, and after they've eyeballed her, their representatives will show themselves."

"Can we trust them not to shoot her?"

"They've been respecting the truce flag up to now," Lone said. He pointed toward the end of the block. "The meeting will be under that arch over there."

"Does Mantra have any enemies on the other side that she should worry about?" Tark asked.

"Not really," the chamberlain said. "Her worst enemy that I know of is Necromantra."

"Leave that one to me," Brandon said darkly.

"Who will I be negotiating with?" I asked Lone.

He shrugged. "The rebels were coy about that."

"Who was the contact you talked to?" I asked.

"Have you met Slayer?"

"No, I haven't. I read his Aladdin file, though," I said.

There was something slightly unreal about this conversation. This alliance of Solitaire with King Warstrike seemed a little unlikely. If Solitaire had turned against his crime-boss father, why was he working with Warstrike, who was ruling his little kingdom like a crime boss? I wondered whether Tark had ever tried to nail him down on that question. Why did Brandon trust a person with such a background? Like, if he wouldn't follow his own father, why would he follow a ruthless king?

"Well, maybe I should get over to that arch," I suggested, rising. Tark grabbed my arm and shook his head. "Go at the last minute," he told me. "If you make yourself a sitting duck, somebody might get the idea to take you out, truce or no truce."

So I waited a little longer. Lone and Brandon spent most of that time off by themselves, speaking in hushed tones. When I got antsy, I started walking toward the arch alone. Warstrike's glance followed me, but he didn't say anything. I planned to ghost myself; the rebels would be able to see me, but they couldn't touch me. Of course, my force field idea hadn't worked so well with Neuronne.

I crossed a street, my footfalls making crackling sounds as I crossed over the ash fall and entered the deep shadow under the arch. After a few minutes of waiting, I heard footsteps.

"If you're not here to represent the rebel alliance, get lost," I told the still-nebulous figures. "If you're part of an official parley party, step up and don't be shy."

That little bit of encouragement did the trick. Three persons came from behind the rubble, like gunfighters out of a livery stable. They were a mixed bag.

I didn't recognize the beefy blond guy wearing ancient Greek-style battle attire. The biggest of the trio I knew had been a member of the Freeks, a sad-sack team of young ultras. Cayman was green, scaly, and came off more like a creature from outer space than a human being.

 Information on him was sketchy, but he tentatively classified by Aladdin as a mutant. Though he had a human form, he was seldom seen using it. In mutant shape, he was tall - about six and a half feet - with bulging muscles and scales. He had eyes, a nose, and a mouth full of pointed teeth. His clawed hands better crafted for bloodletting than for handling things.

The third negotiator was a woman and a real looker whom I could instantly identify as Choice. Aladdin believed that her powers had been artificially created, making her another product of wetware surgery. Supposedly, she could shoot force beams from her eyes, fly, project force shields, and was ultra strong. But a quirk in her wetware limited her to using only one power for an hour before it would shut off and go dormant - hence her name, which to me sounded like a magazine title that some abortion lobbyist group would come up with. I suspected that the lady had been named by a committee. 

"Hello, Choice," I said amiably. "Is Hardcase out there keeping an eye on us? I'd like to say hello to him." I knew that in my world, Choice and Hardcase were a couple. If Hardcase was against Warstrike, no wonder his kingdom was in trouble.

The ultra woman looked at me crossly, and spoke with a stinging tone. "You really don't know?"

"I'm new to the neighborhood," I said lightly.

"Tell your own story first," the slim, brunette said. "Who are you, and where do you come from?"

"Didn't the chamberlain tell you? I'm the Mantra of a parallel universe. Both you and Hardcase have doubles there, too. In my world, Yellowstone never erupted. I can't believe the devastation I see here."

"And you just dropped in for a visit?" she asked skeptically.

"No, I came here to do an important job. I didn't even know about your civil war until today, and frankly, I'd rather not have to choose sides."

"Then why do we find you carrying messages for Warstrike?" she challenged.

"I'm not. I'm carrying my own message. I think Tark is willing to help me because I look like his late wife. While I'd like to see this civil war settled peacefully, what happens here isn't any of my business; I can't stay long enough to help either side. Come on, Choice, talk to me. Can we make a deal that will help very many people in a different universe?" I didn't want to mention what my mission entailed; she'd probably think I was either crazy or lying.

"To help you, are we supposed to make peace with tyranny?"

"I wouldn't ask that much, but a short truce would be very helpful. Wouldn't you like to take a break from the fighting for at least a little while?"

"None of us like the war, but those are the cards on the table."

"Why doesn't one side agree to leave the city? Wouldn't a mutually agreed on separation be useful?"

She snorted. "The world's a mess. At least here we have some resources that will help with the rebuilding."

"It seems to me that with all this fighting you won't have any resources left when the time comes for rebuilding," I said. "I got the impression when I was over with the other side that their people are only fighting because they think they'll be massacred if they lose."

"I don't pity them; they massacred plenty of good people in Warstrike's cause. He's unfit to lead. And having that witch Necromantra behind him makes him doubly unfit."

"Necromantra has to go, I agree. But that has nothing to do with the reason I'm here."

"Why are you here?" she asked sharply.

I told her as much as I dared, talking about Amber Hunt while leaving out the unbelievable details. "If you see a woman who bursts into flame whenever she uses her power," I said, "that'll be Amber Hunt."

"I once saw Miss Hunt over Las Angeles," Choice replied. "So you want us to capture Amber Hunt for you? Why should we do the dangerous lifting you should be doing?"

"I'd appreciate any help I can get, but all I'm seeking is an agreement that if she shows up, she belongs to me."

"Then what?"

 "Then I want to get the hell out of here with her!"

With a grudging expression, she said, "I'll take your request to the committee."

"You can also tell them that if my plan works, Hunt and I can save millions of people."

"Why should anyone here care what happens in another universe?" Choice asked.

"No reason," I said. "But wasn't there was a time when a lot of people fighting on your side, especially you and Hardcase, would have wanted to help people even if they didn't know them personally?"

"Hardcase is dead!" she declared with a rasp.

I blinked with surprise. "I'm sorry. What happened?"

"He left L.A., looking for other Americans he could help. Tom thought we had enough ultra-power with us to get along on our own."

"How did you find out that he died?" I asked.

"We didn't. But if Hardcase could have returned, he would have been back by now."

I sighed. "That's probably a reasonable guess."

"Will what you're trying to accomplish save your version of Earth, too?" Choice asked.

"Definitely! That's a big motivation for me," I admitted.

"But who's going to save ours?"

"I honestly don't know how either Amber Hunt or I can fix what's wrong  here. And what's wrong here is the war that's being waged."

"If we help you, how much danger would that down on our heads?"

"I'm going to try to talk down Amber Hunt, but wherever that young lady shows herself, there's always a danger. Remember how she almost went gamma?"

Choice grimaced. "I remember. But all I can promise is that I'll take your message to our council."

"How does it work, running a revolution by committee?" I asked.

"It seemed to work for the Founding Fathers," she replied.

"How did it work for the French Committee of Public Safety?"

Choice ignored my question. "When is she supposed to show up here?"

"According to my information, it's only a matter of  hours."

 "I see. I'll pass your information along," the ultra said as she turned suddenly away.


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