WHAT HAS COME BEFORE
Brought together by an unknown entity, Aleta, Joseph, Scamp, Daywalker, Firefly, Ph-Eros and Doc Savage have been told that they are to explore the multiverse, experiencing everything, in order to bring new ages of enlightenment to their respective universes.
Their first mission was to prevent the time-travelling bounty hunter Death’s Head from entering the Earth year 8162; a mission that they failed, but rectified by sending the hunter back where he came from. In the aftermath of that battle, the Exiles were whisked away once again…
” – right!”
When Ph-Eros finished speaking, he looked around to find himself somewhere completely different from the desert in which he had been fighting a militant group calling itself Dragon’s Claws only moments earlier.
He now stood in the pouring rain, in the middle of a concrete jungle of a far greater size than any other he had encountered before. As far as his eyes could see – about two feet in each direction – massive skyscrapers penetrated the clouds that acted like a heavy blanket over the city. Ph-Eros didn’t even want to guess at the size of the skyscrapers, whose upper floors were shrouded in cloud; at that moment he was concerned only with getting his injured friends out of the rain.
“Wonderful,” he muttered. His dark brown hair had become matted to his forehead, and his white shirt – worn beneath a ruddy vest – had turned decidedly see-through. “We’ve been teleported. Again.”
Daywalker was a young man with a body more fit and toned than most. He had light blonde hair, but the rain had made it appear much darker than it usually was. He wore a blue spandex bodysuit that was unaffected by the rain. The water droplets trickled down the material and formed a puddle at Daywalker’s feet, and as Ph-Eros sneezed from the cold he imagined how warm it must be in a suit that was designed to maintain a comfortable temperature.
Ph-Eros’ other companion was a woman younger than both him and Daywalker. Like Daywalker, Scamp possessed an incredibly well-toned body, earned by years of intense physical training. She wore a red and blue bodysuit that, like Daywalker’s, protected her well from the elements. In Ph-Eros’ opinion, Scamp’s usually light brown hair looked much better as the darker brown that it became when it was wet.
Both Daywalker and Scamp had been badly injured in the battle with Dragon’s Claws, and had regained consciousness and sat upright a split second before the trio of heroes was forcibly shunted into another timeline. When they appeared in this new reality, they remained in the positions that they had been in when they left. As a result, Scamp and Daywalker appeared sitting side-by-side on the mucky, slimy ground of the alleyway.
They stood simultaneously and brushed themselves off as they tried to work out where they were. They appeared to be between two skyscrapers, the lower levels of which had been constructed from a black stone that had also been used to pave the alleyway.
“You’re both okay!” Ph-Eros said again as Scamp and Daywalker rose. “You were pretty badly injured, and the medical equipment in the Claws’ base even said Daywalker was dead – ”
“Really?” Daywalker interrupted hastily. “They should have that checked out.”
” – but you two must be quick healers or something!”
“Yeah, somethin’ like that,” Scamp replied distractedly in her southern accent. “Does anybody have any idea where we are?”
Ph-Eros shook his head. “All I know is that it’s raining. I don’t have the faintest idea where we are. How about you, Daisy?” Ph-Eros looked at Daywalker, who had started to wander off down the alley.
“Hey, Daywalker!” he shouted.
“Huh?” Daywalker turned to face Ph-Eros and Scamp. “Sorry? I wasn’t listening.”
“Do you know where we are?” Scamp asked.
Daywalker shrugged. “No. Never been here before.”
Ph-Eros furrowed his eyebrows. Daywalker seemed strange. It could have been a concussion or some similar after effect of the battle with Dragon’s Claws, but he thought he’d best make sure.
“Daywalker, are you – ”
“I’m fine. I just want to get out of the rain, okay? Come on,” Daywalker snapped as he motioned for Scamp and Ph-Eros to follow him out of the alley. Ph-Eros knew that something was wrong – and he was going to find out exactly what that was.
Joseph was angry.
Not as angry as he once was, but not the happiest he’d ever been, either. He had gone from standing in the dusty, dry desert of 82nd century London to find himself stuck in a sewer tunnel.
He sighed loudly and looked down the tunnel to see what lay ahead. The sewer was incredibly dark. A few electrical lights lined the tunnel’s walkway, and Joseph was relieved that he would not need to trek through the vile slime that separated him from the other side of the tunnel.
He could not see the ceiling above him, and that made flight impossible. He did not want to risk wounding himself in a sewer, where bacteria reproduced freely.
He began to walk carefully along the tunnel, listening to the squidgy noise that his boots made each time he stepped on the slimy pathway. After five minutes of walking, he heard a noise a few feet ahead of him. He assumed it was just a rat and kept walking.
Aleta retched as she suddenly materialised inside of a well-furnished but dimly lit room. As her internal organs began to feel secure inside of her body, Aleta wondered if she’d ever get used to the method of teleportation that she was now being subjected to.
She examined the room and saw that Firefly, another member of the Exiles, had appeared in the room with her and was experiencing similar problems. He slumped onto one of the two beds that were in the room and curled up into the foetal position.
“It feels worse every time,” he moaned.
Aleta didn’t say anything. She was still looking at the other items in the room. Beside each of the beds was a small table, on top of which were kerosene lamps that splashed a very dim light across the walls of the room. The walls were painted black, and the carpet was a dark red. A tall mirror was mounted on one wall, with a thick door opposite.
She raised her hand and created a solid light orb, flooding the room with bright golden light. She couldn’t see anything else in the room, and so, for Firefly’s benefit, she made the orb dissipate and sat down beside the young man.
“Are you okay?” she asked kindly.
Firefly slowly nodded. He knew that the nausea that he was feeling would pass, as it had the two other times he had been pushed through time and space.
Aleta opened one of her hands, which had been clenched into a fist and saw that she was still carrying the clear orb that had been given to her by Spratt.* She began to wonder what its purpose was when a pair of cloaked legs, and then a torso and head descended through the ceiling.
[ * – see last issue ]
“Doctor!” Aleta cried as Doc Savage touched down on the floor. “Do you know where we are?”
“I have some idea. It is interesting to note that the darkness that envelops this world is not natural,” the Doctor said stoically. “This place, wherever it may be, is infused with a great deal of magic.”
Aleta nodded. “I wonder if this orb that Spratt gave me has anything to do with it?”
The Doctor smirked. “You don’t already know the orb’s purpose?”
Aleta shook her head.
“Silly girl,” the Doctor muttered as he walked through the wall and out of sight.
Aleta sighed heavily. As a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy and half of the composite being known as Starhawk, she had become used to travelling through time and being used by cosmic beings with far greater powers than her own. However, the events of the last few days had been overwhelming, and she had not yet had a chance to sit down and sort everything out – and the Doctor’s arrogance and rebelliousness were hardly helpful.
She turned back to the bed and saw that Firefly had managed to compose himself and was relieved to see that he had managed to keep his last meal, whenever that had been, inside.
Thinking about food made her realise how long it had been since she had last eaten. It had been at least three days, and she resolved to find some food as soon as she could.
“So… any idea what we’re doing here?” Firefly asked a little groggily. “Let me guess – we’re supposed to track down the Hulk and give him a manicure?”
“I don’t know yet,” Aleta replied. “We seem to be in a hotel room. Perhaps we are now being given a chance to rest.”
“Aaaaarrrrrghhh!” A scream pierced the air, and the ever alert Aleta spun quickly to face the open window. Without a second thought, she generated a solid light shield to cover the torn shoulder of her uniform and ran to the window.
She looked down at the dark and deserted street. Her sensitivity to any changes in the light stream provided her with great night vision – even in the dark, she could still usually pick out the slightest movements. She could see nothing on the street, but she could still hear scuffling and banging coming from outside of the building.
As she continued to watch, Aleta stumbled back as a sewer grate suddenly rose from its depression and flew several meters before clattering on the paved ground. A head covered with long white hair appeared where the grate had been, and Aleta recognised it instantly.
“Joseph!” she cried. She stepped out of the window and lowered herself to the ground, landing only a few feet from Joseph. She offered him her hand and helped to lift him out of the sewer, and pulled his slimy body behind her as she realised something else was crawling out of the hole.
Several figures with ridged, bumpy foreheads on their otherwise smooth-skinned faces clambered out of the hole, and their snarling coupled with the fact that they had seemingly been chasing Joseph made Aleta guessed that their intent was anything but friendly.
The blonde Arcturan concentrated, and from her outstretched hand appeared several long, thick shafts of solid light that pelted her assailants, dissipating on contact with their bodies. The creatures reeled as they were bombarded with light, and tried as hard as they could to get back down the manhole, hissing and snarling all the way.
“I don’t understand,” Aleta said as she put a stop to the stream of light that was emanating from her hand. “Those lumen pulses were only strong enough to stop them coming any closer, but they seemed to be in pain.”
“Those creatures are not used to the light, Aleta,” Joseph said as he stared down at the uncovered manhole. “They are vampires.”
“I’m hungry…” Ph-Eros moaned as he, Scamp and Daywalker walked slowly down what appeared to be a major road. “Can we please look for somewhere to eat…?”
“Just shut up, will you?!” Daywalker snapped. He and Scamp were walking side-by-side, a few feet ahead of Ph-Eros, who had lagged behind while trying to take in the sights. “You haven’t gone five minutes without whining since we appeared here!”
“He has a point,” Scamp said. “There must be somewhere around here where we can get somethin’ to eat…”
“I… fine,” Daywalker conceded. “When we finally find a restaurant or something we’ll stop, okay?”
As Daywalker finished speaking, a loud clap of thunder could be heard in the distance and rain began to pour down on the already soaked trio once more.
“Let’s find some shelter first,” Ph-Eros sighed. He looked down at his body. Unlike those worn by Daywalker and Scamp, Ph-Eros’ clothes were anything but waterproof. He was hungry, he was wet, and he was cold. “Let’s go down that alleyway,” he suggested, pointing at a narrow alleyway to the group’s right.
This place sure has a lot of alleys, Ph-Eros thought.
After much debate, Ph-Eros convinced Daywalker that the heroes should seek refuge in the alley. As they turned into it, Scamp held her two male companions back.
“Look,” she whispered. At the end of the alleyway, four people huddled together. There was a woman who, despite trying to look as though she was calmly leaning against the alley wall was clearly being pressed up against it by three men. “Let’s see what’s going on!”
“Let’s not,” Daywalker said. “Look at them – it might not be safe.” He was right – all four figures wore black leather jackets and tall black boots. The woman, the least fearsome of the four, wore her white hair in a mohawk. They didn’t look too friendly, but Scamp led the way toward them anyway.
“Isn’t this exciting?” Ph-Eros whispered to Daywalker as they followed behind Scamp. “It’s just like a thrilling horror film – a dark, wet alleyway, a rusty old fire escape to the right, mouldy old crates at the end, and a bunch of fearsome thugs – ”
“Shut up!” Daywalker snapped.
“Fine,” Ph-Eros said with a sniffle before hurrying to catch up with Scamp.
“What’s goin’ on?” Scamp asked when she was within earshot of the group. “Are you okay, ma’am?”
The three men turned to look at Scamp, and as they took her in a sleazy look crossed each of their faces. They approached Scamp calmly, one of them licking his lips as he got closer.
“Scamp!” Daywalker shouted. “Run!”
“Wha – ?” Scamp looked back at Daywalker, a mistake that could have killed her. When she turned back to the three men, she saw the ridged foreheads and fang-like teeth that identified them as vampires.
“Ah!” Scamp yelped. The men lunged at her, but Daywalker was by her side in a flash. He grabbed one of the men and swung him into the alley wall as Ph-Eros nimbly reached Scamp’s other side.
“What are these things?” Ph-Eros asked, panicked.
“Vampires!” Daywalker replied as he reached for another of the men.
“What?” Ph-Eros asked, dumbfounded.
“Just hit them!”
Ph-Eros grabbed the third man by the bare forearm and whispered a command, but the vampire simply sneered, emphasising its disfigured face.
“You think you’re special?” Ph-Eros asked. “Watch this!”
Ph-Eros stopped moving for a moment, and his appearance very quickly changed. His skin was drained of colour, and a long scar appeared down the right side of his face. His lips turned into what appeared to be an involuntary sneer, and the teeth in one corner of his mouth lost any semblance of straightness.
“Eugh!” The vampire staggered at the sight, tripping over the first of his comrades to fall at Daywalker’s hands. Ph-Eros’ face returned to normal in an instant, and he looked to Daywalker for guidance.
“Stay down,” Daywalker said to the three monsters before looking up at the woman with the mohawk. “Face us,” he commanded.
The woman turned, and was immediately recognised by one member of the group.
“Aunty ‘ro!” Scamp gasped. “Wh-what happened? What are you doing here?”
“You know her?” Daywalker asked.
“Of course! That’s Ororo Monroe, the leader of the X-Men! I’ve known her forever!” Scamp took another look at the woman that she thought she knew, and realised how wrong she was. This was not the Ororo Monroe that had helped to raise her; it was something entirely different.
Instead of the X-Man’s opaque white eyes, the creature bore dark red eyes that seemed not to focus on anything at any time. Her skin was far paler than Scamp remembered, and her long, jagged teeth were totally alien to the perfect teeth possessed by the Ororo that Scamp knew.
“What…? I…” Scamp took a step back. And another. And another. “What… you…”
Daywalker darted forward and pressed the creature against the wall. His forearm covered its throat, and his hand wrapped around the back of its neck so that he could snap it in an instant.
“Ph-Eros, break off a chunk of wood from one of the crates,” Daywalker ordered without taking his eyes off of his prey.
“Daywalker…” the creature sneered. “Finally.”
The creature twisted one of her arms free and, after pressing it against Daywalker’s stomach, allowed a bolt of lightning to escape from her hand. Daywalker was blown off his feet and through the air, stopped only by the stone wall of the alleyway which he hit with a loud crack.
The creature’s head was snapped around as Daywalker was blasted away, but it calmly rotated it back into its normal position as it cast its gaze toward Ph-Eros. It lifted its hand again, preparing to strike, but Ph-Eros did not move.
Scamp stared at the creature that looked so like her Aunty Ororo. She couldn’t begin to imagine by what means the woman could have become a vampire – but as she began to lower her hand, to release a ball of lightning that would strike the frozen Ph-Eros, Scamp knew what she had to do.
“Move!” she shouted. She leaped at Ph-Eros and knocked him into the mouldy crates. She landed on top of him, and their combined weight shattered the crates as the creature’s lightning ball struck the alley wall and broke off large chunks of stone.
“Ph-Eros!” Scamp shook her companion violently, and he looked up at her. “Ph-Eros, you have to check on Daywalker – he could be dead! Ah’ll protect you from the vampire!”
She pushed him away, and he scrambled to his feet and ran toward Daywalker. The vampire looked as though she was going to attack him again, but as she tried to summon another lightning bolt Scamp took a step toward her and nothing but a spark was emitted from the creature’s fingertip.
“Storm!” Scamp shouted. “Give y’self up!”
“Rogue…” the vampire said quietly. “You’re alive.”
“My mama’s got nothin’ to do with this!” Scamp cried. “What happened to you, ‘roro?”
“The name is Bloodstorm now, girl,” the vampire said. “The woman you knew as Ororo Monroe is long gone – as I shall be in but a moment.”
Bloodstorm raised her arms again, and Scamp watched helplessly as the vampire began to dissolve into a black mist. She looked around and saw that the same was happening to the three men, and she suddenly realised that she was not helpless after all.
In one swift movement, Scamp stomped the ground and caught the piece of wood the came flying up to her. She twisted in her hand before throwing it – hard – at Bloodstorm’s rapidly disappearing chest.
“ARGH!” Bloodstorm shrieked. Her body became completely corporeal once again and she slumped to the ground. Scamp took another step closer and stared, even as the three men disappeared completely, at the vampire’s dying form.
On the other side of Bloodstorm, Daywalker rose groggily to his feet and looked toward Scamp. He watched as tears began to well in the young girl’s eyes and asked Ph-Eros to show her out of the alley. Ph-Eros didn’t say anything – he just walked slowly to Scamp, took her arm, and led her away.
Daywalker calmly approached the vampire and smiled down into her terrified face.
“The Crimson Circle is breaking,” he remarked. He lifted his foot and rested it on the protruding wooden stake. After making sure that Scamp was out of the alleyway, he drove the stake deep into Bloodstorm’s heart and stared as flames engulfed her entire body.
At the entrance to the alleyway, Ph-Eros trembled. He had seen it all but understood nothing. What was a vampire? Did it deserve to die, as Daywalker seemed to think? How did it know who Daywalker was?
He ducked out of the way as Daywalker emerged, and Scamp ran into the blonde man’s arms. Daywalker staggered back, and Scamp saw for the first time the damage that Bloodstorm had done. A long burn stretched across Daywalker’s stomach. A fatal burn, if it hadn’t been for Ph-Eros.
“You saved my life,” Daywalker said. “Thank you.”
“S-s-she’s dead, isn’t she?” Scamp solemnly stammered through her tears.
Daywalker paused. “Yes,” he said finally. “We should find the others – they might have been attacked too.”
“Wait,” Ph-Eros said. “That woman… how did she know your name?”
Daywalker froze. He had hoped that Scamp and Ph-Eros hadn’t heard.
“Because this is my home.”
NEXT ISSUE: The Crimson Circle – and more shocking revelations!
Written by Adrian J. Watt’s of SoftPixels