34 - The Apocalypse, Take One

It was four months of grueling therapy before Cataclysm became independent again, and another ten months before she was back to fighting fit. Her recovery was complicated by a brief stint in rehab after she got addicted to pain medications. She observed bitterly that after years of avoiding street drugs as part of the Maniacs she ended up hooked on prescriptions.

Over the last couple of years she's focused mostly on keeping Millennium City safe, though has also taken missions all over the world. Her relationship with authorities ranging from MCPD to UNTIL remain strained but they've reached a sort of détente. She's tried to stay on the right side of things but has worked with a few groups that Witchcraft is better off not knowing about. Most recently she helped defend the city against the forces of Takofanes during the Blood Moon by bringing the leaders of the Westside gangs together in a brief truce.

Cataclysm grimaced as she pushed her way through the crowd at Club Caprice. It wasn't her kind of place. She preferred the seedy dives in Westside to these kinds of flashy clubs, and darker, grittier music to the bright, danceable beats coming from the other room. However it was one of the few places she could go in costume and, even after all these years out of the Maniacs, she still felt like herself only in her Maniac gear.

She turned her back on the dance floor and headed into the other, quieter area of the club. She scowled as she looked over the room, not sure what she was looking for. She saw a woman waving at her and approaching. The woman was dressed in a white outfit bordered in red and gold. Her face was obscured by a hood and mask decorated with what might have been magical sigils, though Cataclysm didn't recognize them. "You Scarlet?" Cataclysm asked as she approached.

"Yes," the woman said with a warm smile. "Thank you for meeting me, Cataclysm. I've reserved a private table for us."

Cataclysm sullenly followed the woman through the crowd to a table in an alcove. Cataclysm ordered a beer from the waitress who popped up as soon as they got seated, and then she waited for Valerian Scarlet to begin. The woman had contacted her, claiming to be a friend of a friend of Witchcraft's and saying she needed Cataclysm's help on a grave matter. Witchcraft was in Canada investigating a crashed alien ship and the weather was blocking any communication. Cataclysm hadn't been able to find out much about Scarlet other than she owned a club in Vibora Bay and was a skilled sorceress.

Valerian Scarlet leaned forward. "Let me get right to the point, since I believe time is not on our side. Dark forces are moving even as we speak and I need your help to stop them from destroying the world. In a nutshell, I have followed an evil wizard and his minions here from Vibora Bay. I believe they are seeking magical artifacts with the aim of bringing forth the Apocalypse."

Cataclysm raised her eyebrows but said nothing.

"For the last year or so I've been working against a dark magician named Cole, who resides in Vibora Bay. He is a disciple of Therakiel. Do you know of him?"

Cataclysm thought about it for a moment. "Haven't heard of either of them."

"Not surprising," Scarlet shrugged. "Therakiel was an angel thrown out of Heaven during the angels' rebellion, but he was cast down to Earth instead of Hell. Here he has remained, imprisoned by a powerful magical seal, plotting his vengeance against both Jehovah and Lucifer, but few know of his existence. Cole, like the rest of Therakiel's cult, has worked in the shadows. During the recent Blood Moon, several powerful relics were discovered beneath Millennium City. Cole has sent his forces here to gather them and he intends to use them to break Therakiel out of his prison and begin the Apocalypse, which will pit the armies of Heaven and Hell against each other. Therakiel plans to wait for one army to emerge victorious but weakened, and then destroy it and take control of everything."

"End of the world," Cataclysm sighed. "Must be Tuesday. So why come to me? Witchcraft's gone but the other Champions are here. For that matter, I'm sure you have capes in Vibora Bay who can help."

Valerian Scarlet shifted uncomfortably. "Yes, well, that is a problem. You see, I'm not exactly welcome among the heroes of this world. I work with the Trey Kings, one of the gangs in Vibora Bay. So perhaps you can see why I came to you specifically."

The waitress arrived with their drinks and Cataclysm used the opportunity to study the other woman as a beer was set in front of her, and a glass of red wine in front of Valerian Scarlet. When the waitress left, Valerian Scarlet continued. "I'm not going to pretend the Kings are the best people in the world, but they care about their city. They've been helping me fight Cole and his demonic minions, but that has turned the police and heroes against us. Sometimes people can't see past the costume."

Cataclysm had taken a deep draught while Valerian talked and now set the drink down. "You've tried telling them about this?"

Valerian Scarlet shrugged. "Honestly, no. I've tried to enlist their help in the past but they consider me as much an enemy as Cole." She shook her head and said, "They think I'm just trying to steal his power for myself when all I'm trying to do is secure these artifacts and lock them away. While they bicker with me and chase their tails, Cole closes in on these relics."

Cataclysm took another sip of beer while she thought. "So what if they are right? About you."

Bitterly, Valerian Scarlet said, "You too? I would think of all people you would understand my position. You united the Westside gangs against Takofanes's undead armies and yet you got nothing but criticism from both the police and the media. Why can't you see what I'm doing?"

Cataclysm shrugged. "Oh, I sympathize, but the funny thing about people who hang out with criminals is most of them are criminals. There aren't many of the 'villain with the heart of gold' types in reality. Why should I trust you?"

Valerian sighed in exasperation. "Look, these artifacts wouldn't even do me any good. Frankly they are more dangerous in your hands than they are in mine." At Cataclysm's expression she said, "No, I don't mean that you'd misuse them. I just mean they need access to the Fire to be effective. Let me explain." She launched into a lengthy description of the magical principals that would allow the artifacts to work together to break Therakiel's prison, explaining the ritual required a strong source of energy just like the spell to summon Bloodstone had. "I simply don't have access to that kind of power," she finished. "And, well, not that I don't trust you but I plan to tell you how to get each one individually so you will have to bring the first back to me before you can get the second."

"OK, so the Champions don't trust you but they trust me. Why shouldn't I just take the relics to them?"

"Because these artifacts don't just need to be secured. They need to be secured magically. Witchcraft could probably do it, but Sapphire can't. You can't. In fact nobody in Millennium City can, other than me. If they are not protected correctly, then Cole will get his hands on them."

Cataclysm continued to study her, and Valerian Scarlet grew impatient. "We need to act quickly," she said with a hint of irritation. "Every second you sit here thinking about it, they get closer to victory."

Something nagged at Cataclysm about this woman, but she couldn't help but identify with her. Everything she'd said made sense. She'd answered all Cataclysm's questions well. She still didn't trust Valerian Scarlet completely, but it was time to stop dawdling. "Fine. Let's get started."

Cataclysm enters the crypts under the city opened up during the Blood Moon seeking the Obelisk of Dominion. Cole's demonic forces, horrible creatures all teeth and claws and spikes, have beaten her there but she is able to defeat them and recover the artifact. She watches as Valerian Scarlet seals the relic away and then she goes after the petrified head of a Bleak One held by ARGENT. Scarlet seals that away as well and announces she has managed to find where Cole is hiding. Cataclysm and Valerian Scarlet go to Cole's hideout where they engage him in an epic magical battle (that I'm too lazy to write). He's extremely powerful but they manage to defeat him. Valerian Scarlet casts a spell of binding to trap him.

Cole struggled against the bonds but couldn't free himself. He glared at Cataclysm. "I knew it. I always told Witchcraft you'd betray her again. You've fought alongside evil before. It was only a matter of time before you did it again."

Cataclysm frowned. That seemed like an odd gambit. What did he expect to gain by such a bizarre accusation? "What are you talking about?" she asked in confusion. Suddenly she was knocked off her feet by a blast of energy. She rolled as she hit the ground, quickly throwing up a defensive spell. Dark power surrounded her, cutting through her defenses and sucking at her life force. She forced herself up to one knee and sent a sheet of fire blindly in the direction of the attack. She frantically searched for an enemy but saw nobody but Valerian Scarlet.

Valerian Scarlet grinned evilly at her and said, "Thank you for helping me, Cataclysm. Now that he is out of the picture I just need to defeat you." She sent out another lance of dark energy and Cataclysm threw up a fiery shield to block the attack.

"What is going on, Scarlet?" she demanded.

"Evil always betrays evil," Cole sneered.

Cataclysm felt like she had walked into the middle of a movie and didn't know the script. Lacking dialog she decided to go for action instead, summoning a massive firestorm at Valerian Scarlet's feet. As it penetrated that Valerian Scarlet had been using her, Cataclysm grew enraged and her flames grew hotter.

"Getting angry?" Scarlet asked playfully. "Well, we can't have that." She cast a quick enchantment and Cataclysm felt a numbing calm come over her. Her spells sputtered and died as her anger fled and she was overwhelmed by serenity. She rushed to resume her attack but the hesitation was enough for Scarlet. She cast the same binding curse she had used on Cole and Cataclysm fell to the ground.

Cataclysm struggled against the bonds as she tried to stoke her anger again but she was helpless. Valerian Scarlet danced over to Cole who just glowered at her silently. "I just need one thing from you, darling," she said as she started rifling through his overcoat. "Ah, here we go." She drew out a glowing orange stone from an inner pocket. "The Flame Gem is just what we need to finish our little ritual."

Cataclysm tried to remember what she knew about the Flame Gem. "Doesn't...oh what's his name...Robert Caliburn. He's got the Flame Gem. How did you get it?"

"I am Caliburn, you idiot!" the bound wizard roared.

Finally all the details fell into place in her mind. "Oh god, of course you are," she said, feeling stupid. "She's with Therakiel, isn't she?"

"Obviously," Caliburn said with withering contempt.

Cataclysm resumed her struggle against the bonds but they wouldn't give. Valerian came and stood over her. "It's too bad," she mused. "Once upon a time I thought you might join us, long ago before you became soft. Before you became," she chuckled, "so diplomatic. Don't you know that truth and justice and peace talk gets you nowhere? Power is all that matters. It's the one thing that can get you what you want. You can do anything. Even make little costumed freaks do the work for you."

Scarlet squatted down to look into Cataclysm's eyes. "There's no reason to struggle. It's too late. The Apocalypse is coming. Sure, Vibora Bay has heroes like that so-called mystic Dr. Ka and that wannabe ninja Redsnake and that costumed tramp Black Mask. They're not going to stop us; no one can! Not even your Champions, or you, and especially not my Caliburn. I doubt you can appreciate what's really going on." She sneered, "Idiot. So, let me make it clear. Say goodbye to the world you knew! When Therakiel is done with the place, everything will change. And I'll be the one with all the power." She reached out to stroke Cataclysm's cheek, but quickly jerked her hand back as Cataclysm snapped at her fingers. Valerian Scarlet shook her head in disappointment, stood and calmly walked away.

Cataclysm listened in disbelief as her footsteps faded. "Why didn't she kill us?" she demanded.

"Because there's no reason to," Caliburn said sourly. "She's convinced we can't stop her. And she just might be right." He growled. "You don't have a clue what you've just done, do you? This whole situation's a mess. You got us here so you'd better believe you're going to help fix it. Once this binding spell wears off you better pack your extra tights, hero. You're coming to Vibora Bay with me."

Cataclysm scowled at him. "When we get out of here, remind me to kick you in the nuts for the hero crack."

"You better just pray we're in time to stop the Apocalypse, or being on my bad side will be the least of your worries.

It took about 45 minutes for the binding spell to wear off, 45 minutes of Caliburn telling her what an idiot she was. When they were free they glared at each other and then headed for the Champions building.