35 - Welcome To Vibora Bay

Caliburn briefed the Champions on the current situation, showering Cataclysm with withering scorn, before heading back to Vibora Bay. The weather in Canada cleared long enough to get a message to Witchcraft who hurried back to join them. They boarded the jet and followed Caliburn. On the way they heard the first confused news reports of supernatural occurrences all over the world, including back in Millennium City where journalists openly wondered where the Champions had gone. The Apocalypse had begun but the group knew they needed to stop the problem at its source and continued to the Queen City.

They arrived late in the evening. The reality was far worse than any of them had imagined. They city was devastated. Great rifts ran through the city, as though the entire area had been dropped from a great height and shattered. The air was thick with smoke from hundreds of fires and even from this altitude they could see destroyed buildings. Above the broken city floated a huge cathedral set into a massive chunk of ground torn from the earth below. Beneath it was the scar it had been torn from, but the crater seemed to have no bottom. A massive column of light shone straight up from the highest steeple of the cathedral, disappearing into the heavens above.

Cataclysm was sitting next to Witchcraft who stared out the window at the city below. Cataclysm reached out to pat the other woman's arm and Witchcraft turned her tear-stained face to stare at her blankly. Witchcraft said in horror, "What have you done?" before turning back to look at the devastation again. Cataclysm felt a stab of guilt and withdrew her hand.

Defender deftly landed the jet on the roof of Dr. Ka's brownstone. As the exited the craft they were greeted by an exhausted looking man who identified himself as Hormenius of the Trismegistus Council. Cataclysm looked around from this high perch. To call the city a warzone was an understatement. She wondered if there were any survivors at all out there. Dr. Ka's home was protected by a red pyramid of energy. Outside Cataclysm could see demonic creatures patrolling the streets as well as flying figures in the distance.

Hormenius led them downstairs into a conference room where several other people were already waiting for them. Hormenius made quick introductions: Dr. Ka, Redsnake, Black Mask and Amphibian, all local superheroes. Hormenius excused himself and, after the group had settled around the conference table, Dr. Ka got right to the point.

"Thank you, my friends, for coming to help us. I know you must be tired after your flight but we must act quickly. Valerian Scarlet struck as soon as she returned to the city. As you saw on your flight in, the ritual to free Therakiel is already underway and is having devastating effects on the city. The prophecies have come to pass. The Apocalypse is upon us. The looming Apocalypse does not mean the end for all of us. For some it is merely the beginning of an age of perpetual malevolence. Dark magic users and criminals are capitalizing on the chaos, and many of them are already in Therakiel's service. His foot soldiers come from the four most powerful gangs in the city -- the Trey Kings, the Dogz, the New Shadows and the Sovereign Sons -- who help him in return for supernatural power.

"Fortunately we are not alone in seeking to protect those who cannot protect themselves. The Trismegistus Council is an organization of magic users dedicated to protecting Earth from supernatural threats. Elders of the Council are spread through the city, serving as our eyes and ears. Unfortunately," he said gravely, "casualties have been extremely high. We are fighting a losing battle."

Defender said firmly, "My friend, I don't mean to brag but I've saved the world dozens of times! I'm sure you have, too! The key in situations such as these is not to lose hope! The righteous and true will ultimately prevail, I have no doubt!"

Cataclysm rolled her eyes but avoided calling him a naïve idiot. Dr. Ka smiled at Defender with what Cataclysm thought was just a hint of condescension and then said, "I hope you are correct. We certainly haven't given up. We have come up with two possible paths to victory." He turned to Caliburn. "Robert?" he prompted.

Caliburn stood and addressed the group. "Things are getting ugly around Vibora Bay. If we're going to stop Therakiel, we're going to need three things and plenty of 'em: firepower, sorcery and superpowers. Therakiel has been plotting to bring on this Apocalypse for centuries, possibly even eons. He is a tough cookie, but there's one mortal who may be able to stand up to him: the Archmage. Problem is, there isn't an Archmage, and hasn't been for a hundred years. If we're going to stop the Apocalypse, we need somebody to fill the position. That somebody is yours truly, but we need to quick-step if we're going to get me sworn in before the world ends. Therakiel recognized I was a contender to become the Archmage, and hence a threat, so his second in command, Valerian Scarlet, ambushed me and took the Flame Gem...with a little local help." He glared at Cataclysm who returned his gaze without flinching, though guilt continued to eat at her. He continued, "I still have mystical ability, but without the Flame Gem in my possession, my arcane abilities are severely diminished."

Caliburn folded his arms. "So Plan A is to make me the Archmage. It's not going to be an easy road but it's our best chance at victory. Our biggest problem is that we simply don't know what is required for someone to become the Archmage and we don't have much time to find out. Honestly I think that's the only hope the world has, but we have another plan as well.

"Plan B is to attack Therakiel's forces directly, hoping to disrupt his plans and even interrupt the ritual that will break him from his prison." He frowned. "I don't expect that plan to work. Frankly the real purpose is to distract Val from what I'm really doing. If by some miracle you manage to beat her, then great. And if she manages to block my ascension to Archmage then it will be our only hope."

Dr. Ka said unhappily, "We have been working towards that end with little success. As I said, our casualties have been high. However we did manage to achieve one minor victory. We hurt the Sovereign Sons enough that they have withdrawn from the battle. They are not helping us but they are not helping Therakiel either. Not only that, but they apparently stole a powerful relic called the Unholy Flame of the Nephilim from Therakiel and are hiding it in one of their churches. Acquiring that artifact needs to be a high priority as it could turn the tide in this war. Now with the arrival of our new allies we can aggressively pursue both plans. Some will help Robert in his quest for the Archmage while the others attack Therakiel."

"Have you considered technological solutions to the problem?" Defender interjected.

Caliburn looked surprised. "Honestly, no. Did you have something in mind?"

"Nothing specific but I've found powerful sorcerers are not prepared to defend against technological attacks!" he said. "I'd like to consult with Juryrig and see if we can come up with anything!"

Caliburn made a thoughtful noise. "You have a point. I've never depended on just magic." He patted the .45 on his hip. "Bullets are cheaper and easier than spells, and it's surprising how many powerful enemies go down when you shoot them between the eyes."

"Should we split our forces so thinly?" Dr. Ka asked.

Caliburn mulled that over and then said, "Before I decide, does anyone else have any ideas?"

Ironclad shrugged, "Show me who to fight and I will waste no time defeating our enemies. But in matters such as the Apocalypse, I am at a loss as to how to best proceed."

Redsnake said, "I have consulted the Snake Idol but I have no idea how to stop an Apocalypse."

Kinetik drummed his fingers, saying, "I'm getting really anxious standing around waiting for something to do. Whatever we do we should do it soon!"

Caliburn rubbed his chin for a few seconds and then said, "I wouldn’t mind having a Plan C. Defender, you go talk to Juryrig. If you two can't come up with a brilliant idea today then we'll go back to our original plans. Right now I need a team willing to go after the Flame of Nephilim, and the rest of you can help me gather some magical artifacts that will be necessary for his research."

"I'll go after the Flame," Ironclad said quickly, relieved to have a target to fight.

"Very good. The Sovereign Sons are no pushovers so you should take one or two people with you."

He looked around and said. "Witchcraft? Cataclysm? Will you join me?" Both women mumbled assent.

"Excellent," Dr. Ka said, his mood rising. "You should probably leave immediately. I don't want to give Therakiel's forces a chance to recover the artifact." Ironclad nodded and the three of them rose and headed for the door.

The Sovereign Sons might not be under Therakiel's thumb anymore, but that didn't mean they were happy to see intruders on their turf. However they were not prepared for three powerful metahumans. The trio had little trouble reaching the vodoun church where the Flame was rumored to be kept. Since the Sons would be expecting Therakiel's forces to try to retrieve the relic, they expected the church to be well defended.

Which is why they were surprised when they opened the massive doors and found the place dark, silent and empty. Witchcraft peered into the blackness. "Dark magic has been used here," she said softly. "Stay on your guard." Cataclysm could feel it too, like a cold breeze running across her skin.

Witchcraft summoned a globe of light and sent it out to illuminate the nave. That was when they saw the first bodies. Three Sovereign Sons lay on the inlaid tile floor, their bodies torn in many places. "It seems our foes have already been slain," rumbled Ironclad. "Perhaps the culprit is still nearby."

"Or they've beaten us to the Flame," said Cataclysm.

"No," said Witchcraft thoughtfully. "I feel the Flame's presence nearby. It is still here."

The three of them exchanged glances. "Trap?" said Cataclysm.

Witchcraft grimaced. "Possibly. Unfortunately we cannot turn back. It is possible the Sovereign Sons repelled the attack and have regrouped deeper in the church. We have to be sure. Let us proceed cautiously."

They spread out, Ironclad leading and the two spellcasters on his flanks. They kept some distance between themselves to make it harder for someone to hit them all with one attack, but the deep shadows and the feeling of dread that permeated the church kept them from moving too far away from one another. They all listened carefully and watched for movement as they moved into the church.

Ironclad suddenly stopped. He turned, tapped his ear and pointed to one corridor. Cataclysm strained and realized she could hear faint voices. Witchcraft dimmed her light and they moved cautiously down the corridor. They could see light ahead from around a bend. They stopped as they neared the corner. "I don't want to fight if we don't have to," Witchcraft whispered. "Perhaps we can negotiate."

Cataclysm snorted in derision, but just shrugged when Witchcraft look at her. Ironclad nodded. Witchcraft called out, "You there, in the next room." The voices stopped. "We wish to talk. May we enter?"

They heard whispered discussion. A man's voice called out. "Who are you?"

"My name is Witchcraft. We are allies of Dr. Ka. But we are not your enemies tonight."

More whispered discussion and then the man said, "You can enter but we are on our guard."

The three of them rounded the corner to find the corridor led into a chapel about fifty feet wide and twice then in length. Four voudoun priests and a half-dozen zombies were standing in front of an altar at the far end. On the altar was a massive silver brazier containing a blue flame that burned fiercely. The Sovereign Sons watched the three enter until one said, "That's far enough."

"We just want the Flame of the Nephilim," Witchcraft said. "Give it to us and we will leave you unharmed."

"The Flame is the only thing keeping us alive," said the man. "Its power makes our magic stronger, strong enough to fight off the Trey Kings who tried to steal it. Strong enough to fight you."

"That's what Therakiel wants, for his enemies to fight one another. Help us defeat him. If he wins then he will destroy all of us."

The priest furrowed his brow, clearly conflicted. "We will find our own place in the world that will come. The dark magic will power our spells." He didn't sound convinced.

"But Therakiel's magic will be stronger," Witchcraft said. "He will not tolerate your presence for long. He might come after us first, but then he'll turn his wrath on the Sovereign Sons."

The man dithered. Cataclysm understood his conflict. She'd had the same internal discussions every time she had to work with the police. Finally, though, he got a look of resignation. "Fine," he said. "You take the Flame. But if you make any move against us, we will defend ourselves."

The priest and the zombies moved aside, clearing a path to the altar. The three of them started to advance but something had been nagging at Cataclysm since she entered the chapel. She couldn't help but notice that when they reached the altar they'd be surrounded, but that wasn't it. Suddenly it came to her in a flash. "The bodies!" she blurted.

Witchcraft and Ironclad stopped. "Bodies?" Witchcraft asked in confusion.

"The Trey Kings. If they attacked and were beaten, where are their bodies? I hardly think the Sovereign Sons would have removed them and left their own allies behind."

Witchcraft's eyes widened and she turned back to the priest. He shook his head in disappointment. "So close," he said and then dropped the glamour, revealing himself to be one of the Trey King twisted demonic leaders. The other disguises faded as well and the Trey Kings leapt at them. Cataclysm reacted instantly, bathing half the group in flame. Witchcraft blasted others with lighting while Ironclad drew his blade and leapt into the fray with a bellow. The battle was short. Without the element of surprise, the Trey Kings weren't strong enough to defeat the three of them.

The last of their enemies fell and the three scanned for other threats and found none. They relaxed. "Well done, Cataclysm," Ironclad said. "I am ashamed I fell for such an obvious ruse."

Witchcraft looked at the bright blue flame. "The Unholy Flame of the Nephilim," she said. "The world will be a healthier place once we've destroyed it."

She turned to Cataclysm and opened her mouth to say something else, then stopped in shock. Cataclysm heard a familiar voice from the entry of the chapel behind her say, "Like moths to a flame..."

"Look out!" Witchcraft cried. She lunged forward and shoved Cataclysm out of the way. A black spell slammed into Witchcraft, surrounding her with crackling dark energy. Witchcraft cried out and fell to the ground, writhing in pain.

Cataclysm whirled to face the enemy. Valerian Scarlet said, "Give up, little heroes. You're out of your league, and you've been sold out."

Rage burst out of her and Cataclysm surrounded Valerian in an inferno. The Fire Rift tore open almost instantly and Cataclysm started to send the Fire towards her, but Ironclad charged towards Scarlet with a roar, blocking Cataclysm's shot. He slashed at her over and over, making it hard for her to get her spells off. Cataclysm rushed to the side, trying to get a better shot at Valerian. She finally was able to send a blast of white hot Fire at her, causing Ironclad to step back. Once he was out of the way, Cataclysm was able to focus her full fury on the evil sorceress. Valerian tried the same charm she used before to take away Cataclysm's anger, but that trick wasn't going to work again. Cataclysm had already prepared a counterspell for that.

Cataclysm heard Ironclad grunt and then the crack of breaking stone. The altar came flying through the air, crashing into Valerian Scarlet and smashing her against the wall. As the altar crashed down to the ground, Scarlet's face was twisted in agony. Cataclysm pressed her attack, surrounding her in a firestorm.

Valerian Scarlet glared at her. "This isn't over," she said, blood coming from her mouth. "I'll finish off the rest of you later." She fled into the corridor leaving the chapel, blocking the way with a quick force field.

Cataclysm was blinded by rage and started to give chase but Ironclad grabbed her arm. "We must save Witchcraft," he rumbled.

Cataclysm turned to see Witchcraft still struggling, teeth bared, eyes closed against the powerful dark spell that surrounded her. He was right. She hurried to Witchcraft's side and tried every counterspell she could, but this was some kind of ancient curse. She had never seen anything like it. It was sucking away Witchcraft's life force and nothing Cataclysm did even slowed it down. All she could do was kneel there and watch Witchcraft die.

"Witchcraft," Ironclad said, his voice shaking in grief and anger. "Therakiel and his minions shall pay for this!"

The dark energy dissipated as Witchcraft's life fled. Cataclysm stared at her in disbelief. "No," she said as tears started to flow. "No, we don't die." She reached out to cradle Witchcraft's inert form. "We get stabbed and shot and blown up. We fall off cliffs and buried under avalanches. We face demons and aliens and psychos. We get hurt." She squeezed Witchcraft tightly, tears flowing unrestricted. "But we don't die."

"Cataclysm," Ironclad said. Cataclysm ignored him as she grieved. "Cataclysm!" he said more urgently. "We have to go!" She looked up to see a horde of demonic Trey Kings coming down the corridor. There must have been a hundred of them.

Cataclysm watched them approach, thought of Valerian Scarlet, and her sorrow turned to rage. She gently lay Witchcraft down, knowing she wasn't strong enough to carry the body. "Take her," she said to Ironclad as she stood. The fury grew and flames started to lick up and down her body. Grimly she said, "I'll clear a path."

Cataclysm opened the door and entered Dr. Ka's brownstone. Ka was there with Caliburn and Black Mask. His face lit up when she entered. "Thank goodness, my friends. I'm so glad to see you are-" He broke off as Ironclad entered, carrying Witchcraft's body. His face fell. "Oh, no. Not another one."

"Another one?" Ironclad asked.

Dr. Ka gave him a sympathetic look. "I'm so sorry," he said. "Kinetic fell tonight." Ironclad's face clouded and his jaw tightened. "The others are with him. Black Mask, please show them the way."

Cataclysm and Ironclad followed Black Mask in a daze. Cataclysm was nearly out of the room when she heard Caliburn say to Dr. Ka, "We were betrayed by one of our own. And it's obvious who it is."

She froze. Ironclad continued down the corridor, either not having heard the remark or ignoring it. She turned to see Caliburn was glaring at her. Coldly she grated, "What did you say?"

"Both missions were ambushed," he said defiantly. "We were the only ones who knew about them. I've worked with the Vibora Bay heroes for years and I know I can trust them. The Champions have a long history as well. And then we have you, a loose cannon, a criminal, and a known associate of DEMON, VIPER and other evil organizations."

Cataclysm stalked forward. Dr. Ka said, "Now, Robert, I don't think this is the-"

"Say it again," Cataclysm snarled at Caliburn. "I dare you."

He didn't back down. Matching her glower for glower he said, "Two people are dead tonight. Because of a traitor. Because of you."

Anger like she had never felt flashed up inside her. She literally saw red as the room was bathed in a scarlet tinge. She drew back to send a searing blast of flame at him, when suddenly Dr. Ka stepped in front of her, grabbing her arm and breaking the spell. "Stop it!" he barked angrily. "Both of you! We have to work together if we have any hope of beating Therakiel. This is exactly what he wants to happen."

She and Caliburn continued to glare at each other. It took all her willpower but finally she let herself relax just slightly. Ka let her arm go and stepped back cautiously. She swallowed and grated, "If you ever accuse me of being responsible for Witchcraft's death again then I swear to fucking god, Apocalypse or not, I will kill you. And I don't mean some playful, 'Dude, I'll kill you if you take the last piece of pizza.' I mean I will end your life. Painfully." She turned and stormed out of the room.