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Issue #17

Annual #1

 

 

Issue #17
"Dark Places"
by David Marshall

Samuel "Fats" Wilson pushed back his blankets and crawled out of bed. The demons that drove him to find his slippers in the dark whispered to him of the sweet relief waiting behind the bright pink door at the end of the hallway. The smooth, worn soles of his slippers shuffled across the hardwood floor as he stumbled toward the pink door. He grabbed the knob and weighed his need. The hunger was too great to deny. He threw the door open.

His daughter Jasmine sprang up in her bed with horrified eyes. "No, daddy! Please! Not tonight!"

Fats didn't listen. He quietly shut the door behind him and entered Jasmine's room. "C'mon baby, be daddy's good little girl."

Jasmine pulled her blankets tight and peeked out at her staggering father. "You're drunk, daddy! Go back to bed!"

"Don't you hide from me, girl! You understand?" Fats ripped the blankets from his daughter's trembling hands. "Now give your old man what he needs!"

Jasmine struggled even before her father's strong hands pinned her wrists. A well-placed knee drove the breath from Fats' ribs.

Fats grabbed his side and sucked air. "You ain't ever gonna learn! Are you girl? Why do we always gotta do this the hard way?"

A strong backhand snapped Jasmine's head to the left. Fats thanked God his daughter was old enough to wear makeup without drawing suspicion to him. Her momma had been dead for four years and ever since she was eleven she learned to take care of things around the house. Including him.

"Please stop, daddy! Please?" Jasmine begged.

Fats ripped open his daughter's nightgown, exposing her nakedness to him and leaned in to kiss her.

Jasmine shut her eyes tight and turned her mouth away.

Fats clenched his daughter's shoulders in his strong grip and shook her hard. "Dammit, girl! I'm warning you! Fifteen years old is not too old for me to take my belt to you! You understand?"

Jasmine replied with hysteric sobs.

"I asked if you understood?" Fats demanded.

Jasmine nodded numbly.

Fats released his iron grip and stroked his daughter's cheek. "That's a good girl. We gonna make this a special night. We gonna..."

A dark mist seeped into Jasmine's second-floor bedroom through her open window. Fats wasn't sure why, but the mist terrified him. Perhaps it mirrored the darkness in his own drunken soul. He fell from his daughter's bed and scampered across the floor on his backside. He kicked in vain, but the darkness proved relentless. Its creeping shadow enveloped his right foot and the inhuman cold chilled him to the bone. He tried to run but the darkness swallowed him whole before he could even stand. He groped for the door in disoriented desperation but knew he would never find it.

Then the darkness spoke. "Samuel "Fats" Wilson, I've come for you! Tonight, the cycle ends!"

"Stay away from me," Fats stammered. "I'm warning you."

Jasmine sat up on the edge of her bed. "Daddy? What's going on? Are you still there?"

"I'm here, baby," Fats stammered. "Ain't... ain't no dark cloud gonna scare me!"

"I'm much more than a dark cloud, Samuel! I am the embodiment of the terror your wretched soul has heaped upon others! Look deep within me and tremble!"

"I'm afraid of nothing! You hear me?" Samuel protested. .

"Come, Samuel Wilson," the darkness replied. "Let us see together."

Visions swirled before Fats's eyes. A young boy in Harlem steals for the first time. A teenager and a gang of friends beating an old man lifeless for thirty dollars. A much older version of himself cheating on Jasmine's mom years before she died. He saw the bastard children he never met and refused to support. Most of all he saw Jasmine's potential - what the sexual abuse robbed from her. She was afraid of men. She would never have a stable relationship or marriage. How could she trust anyone enough to give herself away completely? Her soul was downcast and could never be lifted. She was dirty. Broken. Ashamed. "No," Fats sobbed. "Please give me another chance!"

The darkness grew blacker.

"Daddy!" Jasmine screamed. "Please leave my father alone! He's all I have!"

The unsympathetic darkness grew blacker still and filled the room with a thick haze.

Jasmine's cries grew faint as the blackness consumed Fats. He felt like an embryo suspended in a womb of darkness. His lungs filled with a choking liquid. He tried to scream, but he could not hear himself. Then a faint echo of his cries reverberated back to him like a whisper chasing a scream. It swelled in volume and deafened him.

Then the pain clawed at him - indescribable like someone shredding his mortal soul. The darkness was savage and brutal like a wild animal. Whenever it seemed his body reached a merciful end, it regenerated and the agony began anew. Again and again the flesh was stripped from his bone. He smelled blood and tasted it in the air. His own blood. Then it seemed like he fell forever before he landed in what could only be described as a swamp.

He prayed to God to let him die.

"There is no God here, Samuel. He has given this place to me. Welcome to your damnation!"

Appollyon City, Apartment of Alan and Molly Scott

Alan Scott listened to the rise and fall of Molly's breath. He was glad her body had recovered from the crippling stroke, but the price was exacting a heavy toll on them both. Furthermore, the embryos implanted in her womb were perhaps the cruelest blow the Manhunters could have dealt.

Only once in her life had Molly experienced the joy of carrying a child, though she believed it miscarried. Alan wished the truth were that simple. The Manhunters stole her unborn child from her womb and bio-engineered a new breed of Manhunter programmed to carry on their legacy should the Green Lantern Corps eradicate them.

For years, both he and Molly believed the Manhunters supplied her Harlequin glasses as a means to keep tabs on him. Again, the truth was much more sinister. The glasses did more than cast illusions. Using them bathed her body in a radiation that changed her at the molecular level and prepared her to incubate the new breed.

Alan felt responsible. His wife was played as a pawn for nearly sixty years because she wanted to be close to him. It was unfair that such a sweet, loving woman was put through such an ordeal.

Molly hadn't talked much for days, except to Nikolai. He was Molly's former lover and the father of her child. He was also a bit of a sore subject these days. He wasn't a bad man, but it bothered Alan that Molly kept this part of her life from him. After all, she knew the truth about Jennie and Todd. So why so secretive about her past? Unless she still loved Nikolai? No, that was foolish jealousy talking! Why would he be jealous of an old man like Nikolai? Perhaps it was the bond they shared that Alan could never experience with Molly - a child. She had a part of Nikolai growing in her at one time. More jealousy.

Alan swore he wouldn't allow the Manhunters to harm his marriage. He refused to give them that satisfaction. His thoughts were interrupted by a frantic knocking on the front door.

The knocking jerked Molly awake as well. "Alan? Who could that be at this time of the night?"

"I don't know," Alan replied, "but it had better be good."

Alan slipped out of bed and into his robe. He was still tying its terrycloth belt around his waist when he reached the door. Even with the power of the Starheart, he looked through the peephole to see if he recognized the person trying to get their attention. "Todd?"

Alan opened the door and found his son trembling. "What's wrong, son? Are you hurt?"

Todd quickly pushed his way inside. "I didn't mean to do it! Honest."

"Do what? What's going on?"

Molly made her way to the living room and sat on the couch. "Todd? Honey, are you ok? It's three o'clock in the morning."

Todd buried his face in his hands. "I never meant to hurt anyone."

Alan was concerned. Todd's powers could be very dangerous. "Who did you hurt?"

"A neighbor. I don't know his name. I see him leaving for work in the mornings, but haven't spoken to him. I didn't mean to," Todd replied.

"How did you hurt him?" Molly asked. From the tone of her voice she obviously harbored the same dread as Alan.

"I was sleeping," Todd answered. "The shadows sought him out as he raped his fifteen year-old daughter."

A part of Alan wanted to say "good", but he knew it wasn't the right way to deal with such men. There were courts and a judicial system. "Where is he now, Todd?"

Todd looked up with heavy eyes. "The Shadow Realm. I can hear him in there - feel him even."

"But you weren't in control," said Molly. "How do you know what happened?"

Todd turned to Molly. "The shadows whisper to me. I've learned to shut it out - to ignore it, but tonight they released themselves."

"So he's not dead?" Alan asked.

Todd shook his head. "Not dead. He just wishes he was."

"Is there a way to reach him?" Alan asked.

Molly stood. "Oh no you don't! The two of you can't go gallivanting around the Shadow Realm. Who knows if you'll ever make it back?"

Todd ignored Molly's protest. "His regrets are like footprints in new fallen snow. We can track him while they are fresh, but as he resigns himself to his fate they are quickly filled by despair and he'll be hopelessly lost. I just don't know how we'd make it back. You can't exactly leave a trail of breadcrumbs in the darkness."

"I thought you slipped into the Shadow Realm when you become a wraith?" Alan asked.

"I do," Todd replied. "How do I explain this? I go into the Shadow Realm, but it's more like I hang around the doorway. I don't have to move through the Realm to do what I do in my wraith form."

"What if we had a beacon?" Alan asked.

"Are you two even listening to me?" Molly asked.

For the first time since Todd arrived, he didn't look distraught. Instead he looked hopeful. "It just may work. What do you have in mind?"

"I know someone," Alan replied. "Leave it to me."

Appollyon City, Polk Towers, The Following Morning

Felicity Barnes squeezed onto the elevator behind her camera crew. Even a svelte size two could feel like a sardine at times. They were at Polk Towers to do a live interview with Dr. Klaus Eule, the enigmatic leader of the Society of the Owl.

Jennie arranged the interview under the pretense of publicity, a feel good piece to educate the masses on the change of heart of a hate organization. Little did Eule know that Felicity prepared a list of tough questions for him to answer, particularly about his activities during the Second World War.

A life-long Nazi sympathizer, Eule was no doubt working for the Reich in some capacity, but why such secretiveness?

The elevator doors slid open and the WABS crew was greeted by a tall, blonde woman with slicked back hair and legs that seemed to climb forever. She was a vision of Aryan perfection. Perhaps greeted was far too strong a word.

"Follow me," the woman said. She turned abruptly and walked toward a door and scanned the security badge that hung at her side. The device by the door beeped and granted her access. She led the WABS crew into an elaborate staging area that was prepared for the interview.

"You will have ten minutes with Dr. Eule - no more. Recommended topics of discussion include the Appolloplex Reclamation Project, the Appolloplex Orphan's Fund, the Society's recent funding of improvements in DePriest Heights, and the good doctor's vision for the future. All other topics are out of bounds. Are we clear?" the woman asked as she walked away.

"Like crystal," Felicity lied.

The woman whipped around. "We will not tolerate surprises!"

Felicity cursed the imposing woman silently. Who the hell did she think she was? She was in America, not some Eastern bloc communist regime of the past! Felicity vowed to teach her the difference.

The woman motioned for Felicity to sit in one of the elegant leather chairs set up in front of a backdrop emblazoned with the Society's logo. Felicity complied and the crew quickly went to work setting up their equipment in silence. Something about the room made one not wish to speak unless spoken to. Felicity took it as a direct challenge.

Dr. Eule's assistant stuck around lock enough to be satisfied that all was in order before disappearing behind yet another secured door. She was gone for only a couple of minutes that seemed to take hours. Finally the door opened again and she led Dr. Eule from the room. His own handlers applied his make-up and made last minute preparations to his suit and adjusted his tie.

While her own crew made last-minute preparations, Felicity checked her live feed to the WABS studios. "Hey, Jen. You read me?"

"Loud and clear," Jennie replied. "Stand by for my signal."

Dr. Eule settled into his seat across from Felicity and crossed his legs. A cameraman set up over Felicity's outside shoulder and aimed his camera toward the doctor. A second cameraman took position over Eule's shoulder and pointed his camera toward Felicity.

"We're rolling Felicity," said the cameraman over Eule's shoulder.

"We're rolling Jen," said Felicity into the remote mic.

"Copy that," Jen replied. "They're introducing the story now. In three...two... one... go!"

Felicity lit up the camera with her smile. "This is Felicity Barnes with a WABS News Two exclusive. I'm here in the headquarters of the organization known as the Society of the Owl with its leader, Dr. Klaus Eule. Since suffering a major setback in the Apolloplex bombing disaster, the Society of the Owl has relocated to our city and, according to its founder, now has a new direction. But what does this mean for our city? Tonight we get answers straight from Dr. Eule himself. Dr. Eule, how are you sir?"

Dr. Eule smiled warmly. The years shown on his worn face, but he obviously wasn't a stranger to the spotlight. "I feel wonderful, young lady. And yourself?"

"Fine, thank you," Felicity replied. "Sir, your critics argue that a leopard cannot change its spots. How do you answer them?"

Dr. Eule regarded the question carefully. "I would say they are correct. Fortunately, I am a human being not a leopard. I can grow emotionally and in my understanding of the world around me. While touring the Appolloplex ruins, I saw first-hand what hatred can do - the faces of children frozen in the terror of death. I smelled the stench of burning flesh and blood. These were my own followers and I learned that the path of hatred leads only to sorrow But I also witnessed something greater than my power to hate. This city impressed me with its ability to see beyond my flawed beliefs and teachings. Instead its citizens saw fellow human beings in need and reached out. That spirit of forgiveness moved me deeply."

"Let's discuss those flawed beliefs," said Felicity.

Dr. Eule looked uncomfortable for a moment but quickly regained his composure. "Why should we? The society's former direction was an ugly one, indefensible one. Let us talk instead of the future and of brighter days, both for the new Society and this wonderful city. Did you know the Society recently contributed more than half a million dollars toward the education of our city's poorer, outlying neighborhoods?"

"Are you a Nazi sympathizer, sir?" Felicity asked.

Dr. Eule pulled at his necktie and squirmed in his seat. "That's a ridiculous accusation."

Felicity charged like a mad bull at a matador. "But surely you understand why a certain segment of our city's population doesn't want you here. Nor do they believe such a sudden change of heart."

"The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, Ms. Barnes," Dr. Eule replied. "Besides our current education initiatives, we are also developing philanthropic programs for the city's hospitals, homeless shelters, and public works."

"Have you at any point in your life considered yourself loyal to Nazi causes? Is it safe to say you were an Aryan sympathizer?" Felicity asked.

Dr. Eule nodded. "Of course. My activities are well documented. I've hidden nothing. I don't see..."

"What isn't well-documented are your activities during World War II and immediately afterwards.," said Felicity. "Where were you during this time sir?"

"I served in the Heer and was awarded a Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and a Narvik Campaign Shield," Eule replied.

Felicity shook her head. "You've made those claims for years, but an independent investigation of Nazi war records show no Auszeichnungen awarded to you, nor does your name appear in Heer military documents. Again, what were you doing during this time sir?"

"This sham of an interview is over, young lady! I will not discuss old conspiracy theories with you or anyone else!" Dr. Eule huffed. He stood abruptly and walked away followed by his team of handlers. They disappeared into his office.

Felicity looked into the camera once more. "More questions than answers. From the headquarters of the Society of the Owl in downtown Appollyon City, this is Felicity Barnes reporting for WABS News Two."

As soon as the cameras were lowered, the imposing, statuesque blonde grabbed Felicity by the arm and spun her around. "What have you done?"

"Welcome to the First Amendment, sister," Felicity answered as she stood and pulled away from the woman's grip. The Aryan vision stood a full head taller but Felicity didn't back down. She peered into the statuesque blonde's eyes. "My job is to report the truth!"

"And my job is to protect Dr. Eule," the woman replied. "You will pay for this indiscretion!"

"Are you threatening me?" Felicity asked. "I'm not afraid of you."

"Then you are a fool," the woman replied before walking off.

"You ok Felicity?" one of the cameramen asked.

Felicity nodded. "I'm fine. Let's get out of here."

"Best idea anyone's had all day," the cameraman shot back.

Opal City

"Thanks for coming, Jack," said Green Lantern.

"Anytime," Jack Knight answered. "I'm always happy to help out the old guard."

"Show some respect," Obsidian hissed.

Jack threw his hands up in surrender. "Whoa! No disrespect intended, bro. I've learned a lot about these guys since becoming Starman. We owe them a great debt."

"Thanks, Jack. It's ok, Obsidian," said Green Lantern. "I've worked with Jack before. He's a good guy."

"Is this it?" Obsidian asked.

The three heroes stood outside a spectacular brownstone mansion that oozed Old World charm. It stood out even among the storied architecture of Opal City.

"This is it," Jack answered. "Let's just hope he doesn't mind a guest or two."

Jack rang the doorbell and the heroes waited. After what seemed like an eternity, Shade answered the door. He looked happy to see Jack, but seemed flustered by his friends.

"Jackie boy, you've brought... guests?" Shade asked.

"If there's a problem we could..." said Green Lantern.

Shade waved off the suggestion. "Nonsense! I'm just not used to company these days, except Jack here and the occasional O'Dare or two. Please, come in."

It felt odd making a social call on Shade. One of the villains from the era the historians dubbed the "Golden Age", Shade was a pain in the Justice Society's side on more than one occasion. If anyone would have told Green Lantern forty years before that he'd one day visit Shade's home looking for an ally he would have called them crazy. But he was in the JSA's old adversary's foyer making proper with small talk. "Great place you have here, Shade."

"I enjoy it," Shade replied. "It's a bit roomy for a gentleman living alone, but I've grown attached over the years. It makes me feel connected to my home."

"The Old World?" Jack asked.

Shade got a far-away look in his eye then nodded. "You could say that."

As strange as it was making small talk with Shade, Green Lantern had enough. If they were going to rescue Samuel Wilson from the Shadowlands, they couldn't waste time on niceties. "Shade, this is my son, Obsidian."

Shade looked surprised, as did Jack, but smiled and tipped his hat to Obsidian.

Green Lantern hoped he didn't make a mistake by revealing his relationship with his son.

"Your son?" Shade asked. "Todd, you didn't tell me."

It was Green Lantern's turn to be shocked. "You two know one another?"

"We've met," Obsidian answered. "Why are we here?"

Green Lantern hoped Obsidian wouldn't insult their host with his abruptness.

"Friendly fellow, isn't he?" Shade asked. "But yes, we've encountered one another before, but that's water under the bridge. Would either of you care for some tea?"

"No, thank you," Green Lantern replied.

Shade led his guests to a drawing room and motioned for them to sit. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company? I assume it's not a social call."

"We need your help," said Green Lantern.

Shade smiled. "Is this true, Jack? They need my help?"

Jack looked confused. "Uh... yeah. That's what Green Lantern just said."

"The irony is just too delicious, Jackie Boy," Shade answered. "How may I be of assistance?"

"We need a beacon to lead us from the Shadow Realm," Obsidian answered. "We need to get someone out."

Shade shook his head. "Impossible! No one returns from the shadows."

"I can," Obsidian answered, "But I need someone who can keep the doorway open to assure our return. Will you help?"

"And what's in it for me?" Shade asked. "A good feeling?"

Obsidian stood. "I knew this was a waste of time!".

"Todd, sit down!" said Green Lantern. He didn't mean to use Obsidian's real name, but the boy could be so damned hot-headed.

Green Lantern leaned forward in his chair. "I don't care what you get out of it, Shade. We're not here to bargain with you. We're here because we need you. Will you help us or not?"

Shade met Green Lantern's glare with his own. "Let me explain something to you. I don't care who is trapped in the shadows. They can burn in hell for all I care as long as it has nothing to do with Opal. But since you're taking Jack into the Realm with you, he'd bloody well better return, especially with Mikaal running around with the JSA these days."

"Opal has no shortage of heroes," Jack replied.

"But only one Starman," Shade retorted. "And if you don't return, I'll have to interrupt my peaceful retirement to deal with the miscreants that threaten her. "

Jack stood. "So... how do we get to the Shadowlands?"

"Leave that to me," Obsidian answered. Shadows filled the room quickly. Even a seasoned hero like Green Lantern recoiled from the depths of their darkness. He'd seen what Todd's shadow matter, and Shade's as well, could do to a person. Jack must have had the same thought. He stood back-to-back with Green Lantern.

"I can feel your shadows," said the Shade. "Very impressive control."

"Green Lantern, Starman. Follow me," said Obsidian. "And one of you may want to provide some light."

"Hey, I've walked through this darkness before, or I will do it one day in the future. I mean, I already have but... never mind. I hate time travel," said Jack.

Green Lantern chuckled. "I've never been a big fan either, son."

Jack's Cosmic Rod lit the way as the heroes ventured into a hellish landscape of darkness. As they wandered further into the blackness, the doorway Shade held open for them grew smaller in the distance until it was but a pinprick. The ground beneath their feet was soft and slushy like a Louisiana swamp. Each step in the muck felt like it would remove Green Lantern's boots from his feet, but the swamp let go with a sickening slosh and each new footfall felt as if the swamp wished to pull you beneath its murky waters. An occasional dead tree dotted the sparse landscape. The eerie lighting of the Cosmic Rod penetrating such deep darkness reminded Green Lantern of the countless Film Noir movies he'd seen. "A man could go insane here."

"They have," Obsidian answered. "Then the darkness of their hopeless souls adds to the darkness and despair of the Realm. When I told you I could track Fats Wilson by his regrets I meant that he would be the only one here sane enough to have them."

"Nice place to visit," said Jack, "but you'd starve in the real estate business here. Perhaps an old-fashioned soda shop would brighten it up?"

"My God, Todd! I never realized this is what you carry around inside you all the time," said Green Lantern.

"Please don't call me Todd here," Obsidian replied.

"Look dude, it's cool," said Jack. "I don't wear long underwear and a mask but your secret's safe with me."

Obsidian whipped around. "It's not you, I'm worried about. If I'm losing control of my power and these tortured souls escape the Realm, the last thing I want them to know is my detailed biography and the relationships in my life. Got it, Jack?"

"Uh.. yeah. Sorry, man," said Jack. He turned to Green Lantern. "Was I that obnoxious?"

"Obsidian," said Green Lantern. "I appreciate your concern for the people in your life, but I've been to war with this man and his father and respect both immensely. Speak to him like you speak to me. Understood?"

Obsidian didn't answer.

The trio journeyed deeper into the dark. In the distance their dim light cast a pale glow on someone kneeling by a stream of muddy water.

"Who's that?" Jack asked.

"Stephen Bradley-Mills - former bank president who dipped bankrolls. He's been here for five years," Obsidian answered.

"For sticky fingers?" Jack asked "Wouldn't prison prove just as effective?"

"He introduced his investment partners to his tree chipper," Obsidian replied. "He deserves whatever he receives."

Obsidian's quick, ready judgement reminded Green Lantern of the Spectre. Was his own son was driven by the same judge, jury, and executioner urges?

"Is that light?" Mills asked. The haggard ex-bank president looked up from his hell long enough to regard the trio walking past him. "Please, stop."

The heroes complied. Green Lantern hoped there wouldn't be trouble. "I'm afraid we can't help you, sir."

"I don't want your help," Mills replied. "Just allow me to gaze upon the light a little longer. It's been so long. You can drink from my stream if you like. It's not as muddy as some."

Jack complied, making his Cosmic Rod glow even brighter. "No need to bargain, sir."

Tears crept out of the corners of the man's eyes. "Thank you, son. I would say God bless you, but there's no God here."

It disturbed Green Lantern that Mills was resigned to wandering in the shadows. Hope was a stranger. After leaving Mills, the trio walked for hours or maybe days. It was difficult to gauge the passage of time. "How much further Obsidian?"

"We're getting closer," Obsidian replied.

"Can we... um... y'know - set up camp?" Jack asked. "We've been walking for awhile. Or maybe it would help if we flew?"

Obsidian shook his head. "Flying is too dangerous here. Direction isn't as easy as four points on a compass. You want to stay grounded, but if we must stop to rest then so be it."

Green Lantern wasn't really tired, nor did he have a desire to stay in one place too long in the Shadow Realm, but he wanted to give Jack some support so Todd wouldn't be so hard on him. "I could use a little rest myself. My legs aren't as young as yours."

"Then we stop," said Obsidian.

The group found a rare spot of high ground away from the murky swamp. Jack took a seat on the ground and stretched out. He removed his jacket and used it for a pillow. "I suppose one dark, gloomy spot is as good as another."

Green Lantern used his power ring to start a small fire. It barely penetrated the darkness, casting more of a dull pallor than true light.

"Too bad we don't have some marshmallows," said Jack.

Obsidian pulled away and stood at the edge of their camp and stared into the darkness.

Several hours passed with Jack and Green Lantern swapping stories.

"So there I was running naked through the Mist's house of horrors and trying hard not to be seen. The whole time I was thinking, "If I could only get my hands on my cosmic rod." No jokes please, but I had no idea where the psycho hid it. I snuck around for awhile, then of course it happened..."

"Bad guy?" Green Lantern asked.

Jack reached his arms high into the air. "Of course! And the biggest goon of the bunch too!"

"It always happens that way," Green Lantern replied. He couldn't help but smile. Jack was such an animated storyteller. It was hard to believe so much exuberance came from the loins of Ted Knight.

Jack rocked back and slapped his knee in laughter. "You know it! So we start fighting and I was praying I wouldn't die naked. So the big ugly and I..."

Green Lantern listened intently to Jack's story. It had been some time since he had an opportunity to swap stories, especially with one of the younger heroes. He wondered if he was ever like Jack. Was he ever that young and alive? Young maybe, alive no. The shadow of World War II loomed large over his generation. Even on the good days, you were afraid to exhale wondering what calamity the next would hold.

"So this new Mist is the daughter of the one we fought back in the day?" Green Lantern asked.

Jack nodded. "To make matters worse something happened between us."

"Something?" Green Lantern asked. "Like what? Oh..."

"Some hero right?" Jack asked. "What kind of hero has a thing with his arch-nemesis? Could you see... Well I was gonna say Batman and Joker but that's an image I just don't want in my head."

"I've been there myself, son," Green Lantern answered. "The Harlequin and I had our share of moments."

Jack mulled over the name, trying to place it. "Harlequin. I've heard Dad mention her a time or two. Said she was a hot little number. Whatever happened to her?"

"I married her," Green Lantern replied.

The look on Jack's face was priceless. "I... I meant no offense. Man, do I feel like an ass."

It was Green Lantern's turn to laugh. "None taken son. Your dad was right. She was a hot little number. Still is."

Jack pointed over his shoulder to the brooding Obsidian standing in the shadows. "What's his story?"

"I still have ears," Obsidian replied. "My "story", as you call it, doesn't concern you."

"I beg to differ amigo," Jack replied, whirling around. "I'm leading campfire songs in hell because you can't control your power."

"This is not hell," Obsidian replied. "Contrary to all appearances otherwise."

A smirk formed on Jack's lips. "Was that a joke? Please tell me the dark, brooding Obsidian didn't just a crack a joke! What's next? You and Batman sharing the main stage at "The Best Medicine?"

"The Best Medicine?" Green Lantern asked.

"A comedy club in Opal," Jack replied.

"You're welcome to join us, Obsidian" said Green Lantern.

"Yeah," Jack agreed. "You don't have to stand there all by yourself."

"I am watching," Obsidian replied, even more cryptic than usual.

"Watching what, son?" Green Lantern asked.

"Just beyond the edge of our camp, where the light of our fire gives way to the darkness lies a menagerie of the damned drawn by the fire's warmth. Were it not for my power they would tear our limbs from our bodies to take our place around it," Obsidian answered.

Green Lantern brightened the fire's glow but the Shadow Lands were so brutally depressing, the task proved difficult. With the fire brighter, he could see the hope-starved eyes glowing in the distance. "Perhaps our man is among them."

Obsidian shook his head. "His soul is elsewhere."

"What have these people done to deserve this?" Jack asked.

Green Lantern didn't want to push his son, but Jack had a point. Damnation to the Shadow Realm was a harsh judgement.

"They sought gain for deeds done in the darkness. The darkness demands retribution," Obsidian replied.

"Shouldn't the courts decide their fate?" Jack asked.

Obsidian didn't reply.

Green Lantern and Jack sat in silence for the next few minutes until Jack exaggerated a yawn and stretched his arms high into the air. "I'm beat. Care if I grab forty winks?"

"Go ahead," Green Lantern replied. He enveloped Jack in an emerald sleeping bag.

Jack smiled. "It's been years since I've been tucked in."

"Don't forget to say your prayers," Green Lantern joked.

"We might need them," Jack answered before pulling the sleeping bag tight around him. He shut his eyes.

"You can sleep too if you like," said Obsidian.

Green Lantern shook his head. "I'll keep watch with you."

"I don't require rest, food, or sleep when I'm in the Shadow Realm. But the terrain and lack of sunlight will affect you if you don't sleep," Obsidian answered.

Green Lantern wasn't sure whether his son lied or not but took him up on the offer. He made a sleeping bag for himself as well. He closed his eyes and hoped for a dream about the sun.

Appollyon City, Apartment of Alan and Molly Scott

Molly Scott crawled out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. She barely made it to the toilet before she vomited. The Manhunter embryos were growing at a very rapid rate. She learned to reshape her womb to accommodate the litter of unwanted biotech warriors but the metamorphosis was painful and left her sick.

After puking, Molly removed a tissue from its roll and wiped her mouth. God, how she hated the damned abominations living inside her! According to Ray Palmer, the things couldn't even be aborted without killing her too. She wished her hatred alone could kill them.

She moved to the sink and brushed her teeth. Watching herself in the mirror the whole time, she cursed herself for being a pawn her whole life. Well, maybe not her whole life. Alan never used her as a pawn. Thank God she had his love.

Molly shuffled back to bed. Once she was settled, her thoughts turned again to her husband. At first she fretted for his and Todd's safety within the Shadow Realm. But even thoughts of their safety weren't enough to drive her pregnancy from her mind.

Alan supported her, even though she knew the pregnancy bothered him greatly. He did and said all the right things, but she couldn't help but wonder how long he'd keep up his charade before blowing up.

Of course the one bright side to the Manhunter bioengineering was that her body was in the best condition she'd known since the mid-50's. She had more energy. Old aches and pains vanished like days gone by. There was a youthful vigor to her step again and she was happy to be able to read the newspaper without glasses. Most of all she was thankful to be free of those damned migraine headaches.

And then there was the power. Like her "son" (she hated thinking of that cursed machine as such) she was able to rearrange her body's molecules at will to take any shape or form. At first she was only able to do small things, but after practicing she was getting the hang of it. Still she restricted using the ability to making her pregnancy more comfortable.

Molly pulled the blankets up to her neck and rolled over when a bright flash of light startled her. Someone stood at the foot of her bed. She recognized the intruder. "What the hell are you doing here?"

The Shadow Realm

Green Lantern awoke in darkness.

"Welcome to the Hotel California," said Jack. "You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave."

"How long did I sleep?" Green Lantern asked.

"Who knows?" Jack replied. "Ten minutes? Ten hours? Ten days?"

"Did you rest well?" Obsidian asked.

Green Lantern nodded. "I did."

Obsidian was on the move once more. "Then you have slept long enough. We should leave this place. It's getting more difficult to keep away the damned."

"I'll extinguish the fire so these unfortunate souls don't tear one another to pieces to get to it," said Green Lantern as he doused the Starheart's flames. He and Jack stood and got their bearings, or at least as much as was possible.

Jack fell in line behind Obsidian and Green Lantern brought up the rear. Again, Jack extinguished the darkness with his Cosmic Rod.

"I hate to ask, but how do we find Shade once the fun is over?" Jack asked.

"Leave that to me," Obsidian replied.

Jack tried his best to whisper in Green Lantern's ear, but he was one of those people who couldn't really whisper if his life depended on it. "How did I know the answer would be dark and spooky?"

The heroes walked for several hours and saw no sign of Fats Wilson. Obsidian abruptly halted.

"What's wrong?" Green Lantern asked. "Is Wilson nearby?"

"Yes, but he's not alone," Obsidian answered.

"You look spooked dude," said Jack. "Even more so than usual."

"This is the furthest I've adventured inside the Realm," Obsidian replied.

"Lovely," said Jack. "We do our best Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea gets lost."

"Todd, son, is everything ok?" Green Lantern asked. His son looked confused and scared.

"Yes, Todd! Is everything ok?" asked a booming voice that filled the darkness with a cold wind.

"What's that?" Jack asked.

"I don't know," Obsidian replied.

"Of course you do, Todd!" the voice mocked, emphasizing Obsidian's real name. "You should know me better than anyone. I am your worst enemy, the one most likely to destroy you."

"Show yourself!" Obsidian demanded.

The voice laughed heartily.

A burst of emerald energy exploded from Green Lantern's ring and cast long shadows over the illuminated landscape.

A giant towered over the three heroes, his face hidden in shadows. "Were you looking for this?"

The giant tossed the broken body of Fats Wilson to the ground.

"I demand to know who you are!" Obsidian shouted.

The shadows around the giant's face dispersed. It was impossible! The face was Todd's own! Obsidian sunk to his knees.

"Surprised, Todd?" the giant asked. "You shouldn't be. I did say I was your worst enemy!"


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