Issue #12, Nov. Yr 2
"No Man Escapes"
Alan Scott awoke and was surprised to find himself unguarded. Gone was his garish costume. It was replaced by the traditional style favored by the native population. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs and sifted through the recent events. He prevented Chang from uttering the reversal spell, so the Warlock was blocked from Earth temporarily. More pressing was the mystery of his captors. He wasn't sure how a group of warriors in Ancient China knew of Oa or why the connection to Chang was so important to them. More importantly, he hoped their interference wouldn't cost Zatanna in her battle with the Warlock. She was good, but the Warlock was an incredibly powerful being and every moment was precious.
Picking himself off the ground, Alan moved outside into the village streets, which were abuzz with frightened, superstitious onlookers. Men ran to and fro with the urgency of a fire department chasing a three-alarm blaze. Confusion reigned supreme but the activity was centered in one direction. Alan followed the fearful villagers to a small shanty on the edge of town. An eerie quiet hung in the air, in contrast to the bedlam in the heart of the village. Everyone spoke in hushed whispers, if at all. Men gathered around Chang's shack but none dared to enter. When the villagers saw Alan they dispersed quickly.
Alan entered the dwelling slowly. Chang's shanty was filled with dead men. Despite the death all around him, he took comfort in knowing events unfolded as fate intended. Alan found Chang's body and removed the crude lamp from the death grip of the sorcerer's hands and studied it reverently. The work was hasty, but admirable in its simplicity. It was like holding the Holy Grail but Alan's veneration was interrupted by a thundering voice.
" WE MEET AGAIN, ALAN SCOTT!"
Eternal Now, The Warlock's Castle
"You were a fool to return, Zatanna!" the Warlock taunted.
"And you're a fool if you think I'll let you rape my world," Zatanna answered through clinched teeth.
The Warlock laughed heartily. "Your world? My aren't we stage magicians an arrogant lot these days? Shall you pull a rabbit from your hat next and throw at me?"
"Here's your rabbit! Flesh melt from the Warlock's bones!" Zatanna commanded.
The Warlock's tissue dripped to the floor and puddled at his feet. Though it pained him to admit it, Zatanna was formidable with her limited knowledge, but still a novice in the deeper arts. He laughed as his legs oozed beneath him. "I've watched you train, Zatanna.. But the great mages of your realm aren't fit for underlings in my kingdom! And you? A mild annoyance, a toy. Are card tricks and sleight of hand the best you can throw at me?"
"And the proverbial kitchen sink if that's what it takes!" Zatanna hissed.
"Yes, I bet you would, but I've had enough of this foolish game. I have worlds to conquer and this game no longer amuses me," the Warlock replied. With a wave of his hand, he broke Zatanna's magic and reformed his body. He then unleashed a barrage of magical might from his fingertips, and squealed with glee as Zatanna's defenses wilted beneath the onslaught. With a mere gesture, he imprisoned the pretty sorceress in a floating, black coffin. Her head, arms, and feet protruded from it and thrashed wildly as she struggled for freedom.
Beside the coffin a large sign read, "Because You Demanded It!!! The Great Warlock of Ys!"
With another gesture, a macabre audience was called forth from their canvas prisons and roared their approval.
The Warlock addressed his adoring audience. "My loyal servants! Tonight, I will entertain you with an old trick! Before your very eyes, I will saw this pretty, young woman in half!"
The crowd cheered wildly.
The shock on the Zatanna's face brought the Warlock immense gratification. He took pleasure in toying with fragile mortal prey. He loved the look on their faces when they realized he was playing a cat-and-mouse game with them. He wanted them to understand the futility of their best efforts.
"You can cut me into a million pieces and everyone of them will stand between you and my world," Zatanna replied.
The Warlock licked his lips. "And I will feast on your tasty flesh, amateur." He again addressed the crowd. "Now, a round of applause for my lovely assistant!"
A woman entered stage right and bowed. A corse, prickly noose hung around her broken neck and stretched into oblivion above her. Her bulging eyes pleaded for help while blood oozed from her mouth and nose onto her skimpy stage outfit. With one hand, she clawed at her noose. In the other, she carried a gleaming handsaw. Gurgling sounds squeaked from her throat as she handed the saw to the Warlock.
"Thank you, my lovely," the Warlock said to the hanged woman, who curtsied and exited stage left.
"Let the show begin!" the Warlock cried as he turned, teasing his rabid fans. He was a master of suspense. The Warlock put the saw's teeth into the wood.
Again, the bloodthirsty crowd erupted in applause.
Ancient China, The Home of Chang the Sorcerer
"WE MEET AGAIN, ALAN SCOTT!"
The booming voice snared Alan's attention like a John Williams movie score.
The lamp was talking!
"Indeed," Alan replied.
"YOU STRUGGLE FOR WORDS?"
"It isn't everyday I talk with a lamp," Alan stammered.
The lamp's laughter rolled like thunder. "THE WONDERS YOUR EYES HAVE SEEN AND YOU'RE AWED BY A TALKING LAMP? PERHAPS THIS MAY HELP?"
Emerald smoke billowed from the lamp and took human form. An eight-foot, emerald Djinn stood in the room. He was dressed in baggy pants and an ornate, jeweled vest. His curved shoes reminded Alan of ram's horns. He crossed his arms and smiled pleasantly. "Does this appearance suit your comfort?"
It's not a matter of comfort," Alan replied, although he was grateful the Djinn's volume was no longer blasting like a THX system. "It's like talking to myself."
"You should be accustomed to my voice," the Djinn replied. "I've shown you many things, including Chang's death."
Alan nodded. "I've seen other visions as well. These glimpses of the past and the future, they were you... speaking to me."
The Djinn bowed. "At your service. You wield the power well, Alan Scott, an excellent choice."
"Choice? Me? I was a foolish young man who cost a greedy old man a lot of money and paid for it by watching others die in that train wreck and living with the guilt that I should have perished along with them. I found you in the wreckage. Sounds more like chance to me."
"Or so you believe," the Djinn chuckled. "You consider it a miracle or some fluke you survived unscathed? I protected you."
Alan was stunned. He wondered many times how he lived through the horrific explosion and tons of twisted steel plummeting into the canyon like an iron snake. He revisited the scene many times in his dreams, falling headlong into the night, knowing he was about to die. "Why me?"
"Your virtue and sense of justice," the Djinn answered.
Alan shook his head in denial. The last things on his mind that night were virtue and justice. "My heart was set on vengeance when I fashioned my ring. Why did you not slay me then?"
"I considered it, but I could sense your goodness," the Djinn replied. "Just as I could sense evil in the hearts of Chang and these Manhunters this night."
"Manhunters?" Alan was shocked. The earthly origins of the Starheart were far more complex than he realized, but it all made sense- the deadly martial arts and blind loyalty. There were human loyalists to the sect. "I've always known what happened here, but never understood why. I'm still not sure I comprehend the justice."
The Djinn morphed into a Cotton Mather-like puritanical judge and slammed an emerald gavel into a matching bench. "I couldn't risk Chang or the Manhunters harnessing my power. Now Alan Scott, to arms! Take up your mantle once more!"
The Djinn extended his hand and blew lightly as if blowing a kiss. A gentle breeze enveloped Alan's body and grew stronger as the power of the Starheart rushed into him. The breeze gave way to a mighty wind and soon the ancient magic of Oa raged like a hurricane within the tiny shack, threatening to tear it asunder. Alan basked in the power as it flooded into his being and filled the void within. The sensation was invigorating, like the night's first shot before the palate is numbed by too much alcohol. And he was never more grateful to feel the fires of Oa burning within him.
The Djinn grinned and nodded like a parent at a piano recital. When the transference of power was complete, he broke the silence. "Open the portal to the Eternal Now."
Green Lantern protested. "I need to be at full strength to face the Warlock."
The Djinn laughed like he understood a joke Alan didn't get. "When will you understand the power you wield, Alan Scott? It is channeled through your will, but it is near infinite. Its only limit is you."
Green Lantern's ring flickered to life. The youthful vigor was intoxicating to his tired muscles and bones. "I'm ready."
"One more thing," said the Djinn, as he dissipated into a vaporous wisp. "Embrace what you are! You are more than human, Alan Scott! The Corps may be the heart of Oa, but you are its soul! You alone are eternal among the progeny of the Guardians!"
The Djinn's final words hung in the air. Eternal? More than human? Green Lantern considered the weight of the words and wasn't sure he was comfortable with the implication. He didn't think long. The shanty's door flew open and banged against the crude structure.
"<Prepare to die, spawn of Oa!>"
Green Lantern faced the voice that interrupted his thoughts. It belonged to the elderly Sensei of the Manhunters. He stood in the doorway of Chang's hut, accompanied by the victorious fighter Alan saw in action the night before. Thanks to the Starheart, the language barrier was no longer a problem.
Green Lantern held up his hands to demonstrate his peaceful intentions. <"I have no argument with you, Manhunter. A great evil has been defeated. Please, allow me to go peacefully.>"
The Sensei stepped forward. "<Why are you here, Green Lantern? The Corps shouldn't be in this sector! And you don such strange attire!">
<"I'm here because I took an oath,"> Green Lantern answered. He pointed to Chang's lifeless body. <"This man conspired to give dominion of the world to a great evil. I couldn't allow that to happen.">
The Sensei shuffled to a dead comrade and nudged his lifeless form with his foot. "<This man possessed a talent for baking pastries. The village will be poorer for his passing. You see why we question the wisdom of Oan justice? You slay others to atone for Chang's crimes! An evil for an evil!>" The Sensei gestured to the man at his side. <"This is Chin Nee! His talent is destruction of our enemies! He has been centuries in the making, his training lifetimes to complete. He is the perfect marriage of man and machine, and your damnation!">
Chin Nee crouched and glared menacingly at his foe.
The Sensei flashed a toothless smile. <"We live by an oath as well...">
Chin Nee glared at Green Lantern with hate-filled eyes. <"No man escapes the Manhunters!">
WABS Studios, Office of Jennie-Lynn Hayden
Jennie wished her father would return from his adventure with Zatanna. Molly told her what happened and she didn't mind covering for him, especially since he was probably off saving the world somewhere. But her forte was the artistic side of things. Her father was the one with the keen business sense. Years of experience allowed him to remain focused in the midst of tragedy and confusion and the recent bombing of the Appolloplex was taking its toll on the staff. Several key people had already defected to their competitor, WCLO, who offered handsome benefits packages as an incentive to replace their employees lost in the bombing. Rumors were flying around the office about who would leave next. There were many difficult chores ahead for the upstart station and she would make sure WABS wouldn't fold before it truly had a chance to fly. She and Bob were doing their best, but her father was the compass that guided the ship.
"Ms. Hayden, you have a visitor." The receptionist's staccato mid-western twang announced over Jennie's intercom.
Jennie cursed herself for not putting her line on do not disturb and pushed the talk button on her phone. "Show them in, please."
She was expecting Simon Archibald, the News Director for WCLO, and his assistant Becky Monroe, but they weren't due for another three hours. The two stations were cooperating to organize a fund-raising event for the families of those who lost their lives in the Appolloplex tragedy.
The doorknob turned and Samantha entered followed by a large, elderly man. Jennie didn't recognize him, but he wasn't Simon Archibald or his assistant.
The man removed his hat. "Thank you for seeing me, Ms. Hayden. I wasn't sure where else to turn," said the man in a thick Eastern European accent. "My name is Nikolai Bolnikov."
<"I don't want to fight you!"> Green Lantern protested.
Chin Nee jeered at him with hate-filled eyes. <"Of course not! You will be disgraced."> He quickly assembled two halves of a battle staff and twirled it menacingly as he circled his prey. <"Now we prove once and for all the Manhunter is superior to the Corps!">
"<I'm warning you, son,"> said Green Lantern. < "I don't have time to waste on you. We can take this up some other...">
Chin Nee attacked with the same fury Green Lantern witnessed the night before. The first blow sent him reeling over Chang's workbench.
In seconds, the Manhunter struck a blow with his battle staff that would have broken Green Lantern's collarbone if not for the emerald aura protecting him. Still, it hurt.
The Manhunter pounced on his foe and wailed against the emerald glow. He was incredibly fast. Faster even than Batman.
Green Lantern needed to put some distance between them and regroup. Finally, he landed a knee to the Manhunter's back, but the victory was a hollow one. He knocked the Manhunter away, but cracked his kneecap in the process.
Chin Nee recovered quickly and was on Green Lantern again before he could get to his feet. The Manhunter hurled him through the air.
The Emerald Warrior slowed himself with his power ring to prevent being thrown through the wall, but there was no room to maneuver in the small shanty. Seizing the opportunity to take the fight outside, Green Lantern burst through the thatch roof overhead.
Chin Nee leaped after him through the gaping hole his foe left behind and fired a blast from his battle staff.
Green Lantern erected an emerald shield and blocked the blast. Now he was angry. He had taken enough. It was his turn to give. A large, green battering ram emerged from the face of his ring and hurled itself toward Chin Nee, who narrowly managed to dodge it. The errant blow struck the ground, exploding like a land mine, and rained debris on Chang's shanty. Again and again, Green Lantern struck the earth in vain attempts to pound his opponent.
Chin Nee leaped to a rooftop, and then a tree, before hurtling himself into the air. He separated his battle staff into two sections and fired an explosive burst from each.
A searing beam grazed Green Lantern's shoulder, knocking him to the ground.
The Manhunter assassin pounced on him and pummeled him with another series of vicious blows.
Green Lantern didn't think it was possible for him to die at the hands of a brawler, but this was no ordinary thug. This Manhunter would give Superman a run for his money. A faint emerald field was all that protected him from the full force of Chin Nee's blows, but he was steadily weakening it with each strike. Green Lantern knew he couldn't let Zatanna down. Not after her sacrifice to help him reclaim his power. He was a Green Lantern and his will alone could shatter worlds. He refused to die. After all, he was more than human. The Starheart said so. <"Enough!">.
A verdant tornado hurled Chin Nee through the air like straw. He slammed into Chang's wrecked shanty, which exploded from the force of the impact.
The fallen Manhunter pushed his way through the debris and stood on wobbly legs. He obviously wasn't expecting such fury from a Green Lantern. Though his chest heaved for breath, he crouched again. Then, he howled like an animal and leaped.
Green Lantern waited patiently. At the crest of his opponent's leap, an emerald lion shot from the face of his ring and met his foe head-on. The jungle king was much larger than its prey and quickly rolled him to the ground. Its green mane shook ferociously as it attacked the Manhunter. Chin fought back, but Green Lantern's will was too strong.
Chin Nee screamed as the beast tore into flesh and bone. Finally, his resistance stopped and the lion vanished.
Green Lantern approached his motionless foe. The Sensei was right. Chin Nee was more than human. Or was he less? His skeleton was mostly metal fused to what was left of his bones. Tendons and sinew were wired with tiny electrodes winding through his body. Blood mixed with peculiar liquids Green Lantern couldn't identify. The man/machine twitched and held onto life somehow.
The Sensei approached his fallen pupil and leered at Green Lantern with a mixture of hatred and awe.
Green Lantern said nothing. He first healed his wounds, then held his ring to the sky and imagined himself some other place, the Other Side of the World. A transmagorphic doorway opened in the sky and he flew into its center.
The Sensei watched his enemy escape through the portal. He was disappointed with the outcome of the battle. Chin Nee was a complex joining of human and android science. The strangely-attired Green Lantern set their plans back for centuries, but perhaps something could be gained from the costly defeat. Until now, the Manhunters assumed their activities on Earth went unnoticed by the Green Lantern Corps. Was it a mistake that this Green Lantern discovered them on the Asian continent or was the Corps patrolling the sector now? Either way, this particular Green Lantern would pay, even if it took a hundred lifetimes. Or a thousand. The Sensei searched through the rubble of Chang's shanty and recovered the lamp. Looking up to the closing portal, he bowed. <"You won this battle, Green Lantern but we will take this up another day... for no man escapes the Manhunters!">