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Sunday, July 7, 2024



July 7, 2024

A Story of Mantra and Black September

By Aladdin and Christopher Leeson 


 Chapter 14



I had to step carefully; Jamie still held me by the waist. I sank down to one knee and pinched her sad little chin.

“Evie said you have to go, Aunt Jenny, and she says we can go with you!”

“She’s right,” I said, “but do you want to go? Will your daddy let you go?”

“I don’t want to leave Daddy! Can’t you stay with us?”

I can't, darling. But I really, really want you, Evie and Gus to come with me.”

“Why can’t Daddy come?!”

“Your daddy can absolutely come, and I hope he does. But I don't know what he'll want to do. I’ll have to talk to King Daddy about that.”

I wasn't eager to confront Tark just then. I had banished his wife Necromantra into a different time and space, and he might get steamed up about that! Even if he didn't love her, as he probably didn't, he still would have wanted to keep her power arrayed on his side.

Suddenly, the door burst open, and two rough-hewn guards admitted themselves.

I threw a shield around Jamie and myself. "What is the meaning of this break-in?" I asked.

"The chamberlain sent us to protect the princess," said the uglier of the two. "We weren’t told that you’d be here."

"I just dropped in. I’m the girl’s aunt, aren’t I, sweetheart?"

Jamie nodded emphatically.

“The king has been injured by an assassin and may die," said the second of the guards. “He wants to see his daughter!”

The clod! How could he have said that in front of a dying man's child? "All right,” I said, picking up the little girl to carry. “Let’s go!”

The gunmen led me to the armory's rear area into a makeshift dressing station. Nicolas was already there, garbed in his Solitaire outfit. His intimidating hood mask was down, exposing a stern and urgent face. Warstrike lay on a cot too small for a man of his size and had an old blanket thrown over him. He looked awful, with his face scored by burn and blast marks. Jamie let out a moan. I squeezed her close and kissed her.

"What happened?!" I demanded.

"Jimmy Ruiz made a suicide attack," Solitaire said.

"Prototype tried to kill him?"

"Ruiz wasn't wearing his ultra armor," Solitaire replied. "He ignited an explosion without it."

Jamie made a pathetic sound. I had heard many children cry that way. Usually, I heard it just after I had killed some kid's father. It was memories like that that made me want to forget the life I had lived before. When I lowered Jamie to the floor, she dashed to her father's deathbed.

"Daddy! Don't die!"

Coming up behind her, I put my hands on her shoulders. I didn't want her to leap upon her dad's chest and hurt him even more.

"Jamie…" Brandon whispered. Then he glanced my way. "I…I'm glad that you could be here for her, Eden."

"You've got to hold on," I told him. "That accelerated healing of yours can pull you through if you give it enough time."

He let out a weak laugh. "That cheap Chung Brothers' wetware isn't working so well today. Damn me for not having my work done at NuTech."

"I can give you some of my energy," I told him. "Maybe it will kick-start your Chung Brothers enhancements."

"I'd like that," he said "Whenever you used to shoot me up with energy, it was almost as good as having sex."

He was remembering his wife, not me, but I didn't say anything. Touching his brow, I projected some of my bio-energy into him. I've learned to do simple surgery over the centuries, but nothing I knew would help with such serious injuries. We would have to wait and see what my energy injection would do.

"Eden…" Brandon whispered hoarsely, "Those crazy rebels are capable of anything. I want you to take the kids away if I don’t make it!"

"No, Daddy, don't die!" the child shouted.

"I promise to take care of them," I said. "I know of a world that’s better than this one."

"Thank..." he started to say when his face became a mask, staring at the ceiling. I lightly touched his cheek and felt a flicker of life, but he was fading fast.

"Give me room!" someone said from the door. A man wearing old doctor's togs barged in. He carried a gym bag – probably for holding first aid gear. I backed out of his way, guiding Jamie along with me. She was shaking with sobs. The youngster hardly remembered the mother she'd lost; this was so much worse.

The dying man was not the same Warstrike I knew in my own world. The leadership this one exhibited exhibited had been a catastrophe. Had I been a native of this dying city, I might have joined the rebels against him. But, yet, I knew that the Mantra of this world had loved and stood by him. Had she been misguided, or had she understood things I didn't?

"We haven’t been able to find Queen Marinna," said Solitaire. "Do you know where she is, Mantra?"

I didn't feel like lying. "The two of us came to blows in Jamie's room and I had to send her away."

"What do you mean?"

"It’s a complex business,” I said. "Do you want me to bring her back?"

"No way!" he exclaimed.

"Who's in charge here now?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," Nicolas answered. "If the king and queen are gone, it will be our last chance to make terms with the rebels’ leadership."

"Why don't you make yourself king?" I suggested

"I should ask why you don't take the throne, Mantra. You have fewer enemies here than I do," he countered.

I shook my head. "No can do! I came here to corral the Flaming Woman. It's absolutely vital!

The medic who'd been working on the king spoke up. "He's gone," he said, pulling Brandon's blanket over his face. The girl beside me gave out another heart-rending wail.

"Jamie, let's leave here," I said. "Going through this is too awful for you."

"No! I want to be with him!"

Now I heard other young voices. Gus and Evie were squeezing their way into the crowded room. I hadn't seen this version of Gus before. How tall he'd grown! He looked more than ever like his father.

Gus moaned, looking down at his stepdad's covered face. While Evie was weeping as if doubled over in pain. Her brother, though, just stood there, displaying an expression too ambiguous for me to read. Then his fierce blue eyes shifted my way.


I nodded. "Yeah, it's me. Whoever me is."

"Evie told me…." He ended his sentence in midair. I was left to wonder whether he had ever found out that the Mantra who'd died had not been his real mother, other than physically. He certainly wasn't looking at me like a long-lost parent. Though he may have accepted Brandon Tark as a stand-in father figure, Gus wasn't reacting to me as Evie had. That was all right with me. My presence hadn’t made Evie any happier, and I wouldn't have wished the same agony she felt onto Gus.

Evie said, “Mother – I mean…"

I reached out to her and she stepped between my arms. The teen clung to me like a lifeline, and that was what she most needed then.

"Is he really gone?" Evie whispered.

"I'm sorry, yes. Can you do anything for your sister?"

Evie, releasing me, turned to Jamie and dropped to her knees to hug her.

"What's going to happen to the rest of us?" Evie asked me without looking my way.

"Brandon wants me to take you three kids away from here. I want to do that."

A woman guard scrambled in. "Lord Chamberlain!" she yelled piercingly.

"What now?!" Nick barked, sounding like a man going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

"War Eagle has brought in a prisoner! The guards have her in the cage wagon at the great hall’s entrance."

"Is…is she flaming?" the chamberlain asked. I was just as eager to hear what the guard had to say.

"She was, but witnesses say she flamed out when she struck the earth."


"Is that the flaming woman you're looking for, Mantra?" I heard Solitaire’s baritone ask.

I continued staring at the prisoner in the cage. It had been a while since I'd seen high school and college pictures of Amber Hunt in Aladdin's files. Most photos showed her distorted inside a blade of energy. "I believe this could be her, especially if she came covered with fire."

"That's what the guard says," replied Nicolas.

It made things easier for me that Warstrike's men had captured Hunt. Nicolas Lone was giving the orders now, and he'd impressed me as someone who was semi-sane. I wasn't at all familiar with the rebels' leadership. Choice hadn't made a positive impression on me. Los Angeles was a dying city of broken people.

I looked back at Solitaire. “Nick,” I said, “it’s vital that I take her away from here. Do you have any objections to that?”

“Not really,” he answered.

I regarded Amber Hunt. There was a crowd of people around us, a lot of them ultras. Among them were Mastodon, Ironclad, and Meathook. For some reason, Warstrike had few supporters whom I would have called good guys. Solitaire seemed like a solid type amid this sinister crew.

The captive was lying on her left haunch, resembling an exhausted, battered college girl – which was what she really was. I detected power emanating from her, but it was a power of a certain kind. It was similar to the aura the Time Gem gave off, so it had to be the Reality Gem. But the new Gem was not to be seen, making me worry that it was inside her body.

Amber Hunt had to be kept alive since it was her energy-absorbing power that could save the Multiverse, not either of the Infinity Gems. It was strange that I had to think of her as a savior, knowing what a world-endangering menace she was.

Just then, Hunt's eyes opened slowly and gave a feral reaction at beholding the bars of her wheeled cage. She instantly flamed on as if covered with burning gasoline. But I knew that Hunt could burn much hotter than gasoline and would melt through the simple metal bars confining her!


I sent out a mental appeal to Gabriel. Have you got any ideas, Gabe?

The next thing I knew, the little man was nudging up from behind me. No one around us reacted to his sudden appearance, which told me he was invisible -- at least to anyone who didn't carry the Timekeeper nanobytes.

"We have to persuade her to cooperate!" he said.

"If you know how to do that, talk fast!" I said.

"If the Reality Gem controls her, I suggest you ask the Time Gem to negotiate with its brother.”

I didn't trust the Time Gem, but I had no better idea. “Time Gem!" I said to the lump inside the bag tied to my belt. "Speak to the Reality Gem and get his help to make the girl understand that we need her help to stop Nemesis."

Then I looked at Gabriel. "What then? You do have a plan, don't you?"

All I got back from him was an abashed look.

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