The team is home from Seattle, the first leg of their promotional tour for the upcoming Fox reality show (see last issue). Over the next few days they escort the captured paranormals to Stronghold (successfully this time…for a list of the bad guys, go here).
Ernest informs them that they’ve received VIP invitations to attend a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the Maelstrom Tornado. Years ago, the arch-villain Maelstrom had obtained a device to enhance his powers a thousand-fold. He created a mile-wide F5 tornado in south-central Indiana and marched it toward Indianapolis, demanding to be made King of Indiana. As far as the public knew, the Guardians defeated the insane villain Maelstrom and his team Death’s Hand, thus limiting the death toll to just over 3000. In reality, the villains fought the Guardians to a standstill until the creator of the amplification device, Simon LeBaron, arrived and detonated a self-destruct bomb he’d built into it.
The ceremony will be an unveiling of a monument to those who lost their lives, on Monument Circle in downtown Indy. Several state dignitaries will attend, and Lightning Bolt, as the only remaining team member who was there that day, is asked to say a few words.
Joe Bob “Alpha” DeWitt, escaping charges thanks to his FBI informant status, expresses his concerns about the mysterious figure known as Black Lung, whom Joe Bob claims is the spirit of his long-dead uncle. He says Black Lung needs to periodically return to the abandoned mine in which he was killed 30 years ago, or he’ll wither and eventually die.
Darlene receives a report from one of her firm’s PIs, Hugh McDonohugh, who has been on the trail of the missing Dr. Liefeldt. He’d previously tracked him to a Fort Wayne firm, Wilmington Special Needs Center. The address on their single-page website was a parking lot. Darlene tells Hugh to dig into the organization, particularly its funding.
Kid Green has his hands full consoling his mother, who in the past few weeks has learned that the son she thought she’d lost was still alive, and that her husband had been lying to her about it for years (see Issue 25). He manages to get away to visit the comatose Amy in the hospital, only to find she’s been transferred out.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the desk nurse says, “privacy laws prevent me from saying anything else.”
“Do privacy laws prevent you from being squished?”
Shaken by the hero’s unhero-like behavior, the nurse eventually reveals that Amy was signed out by a woman claiming to be her mother, May. The paperwork indicated that she was taken to the Wilmington Special Needs Center in Fort Wayne.
Baron Mind catches up on his fan mail and rehearses for some upcoming stage shows. One email in particular catches his eye, it’s from a young man who loves magic and is seeking an apprenticeship. The boy is backstage at Baron’s next show, introducing himself as Eric Hanson. He shows Baron some of the tricks he knows and begs to be an apprentice. It’s clear that he has some talent. Baron agrees to teach the 16-year-old what he knows.
Baron also receives a call from Anthony Scarpelli. After using his retrocognition to discover who killed the manager of a Scarpelli-connected nightclub, Baron had learned that the culprit was named Bobby Lucese. Bobby had somehow been transformed into a flaming horned demon, attacked the club, and made off with a glowing yellow amulet. Baron instinctively knew that the gem in that amulet was related to the one in his turban, to the group of stones sought by the Mistress of Gaia (see Issue 17 and Issue 29).
“So,” Scarpelli began, “I know you claim your magic isn’t real, but do you happen to know anybody who might be able to deal with a flaming-headed-demon kind of problem?”
“Yes, I think I do.” To himself, Baron mused, “That’s my new sidekick’s gem.”
Dallas is settling back into his lab at the Indiana Center for Vascular Biology and Medicine on the campus of IUPUI. He hears glass breaking and screams from down the hall, from the direction of the animal labs. He pokes his head out the door and sees a shambling, quivering, misshapen mass of pink blubber emerging from a laboratory door. It leaves a wet trail as it crosses the hall and enters another animal lab. More screams.
From the first lab, Dallas’ frequent research partner Felicity Hoffman comes running. “What is that thing?” Dallas asks. “My experiment,” Felicity pants. “I’ve been working on spurring the growth of stem cells. Something…something went wrong…”
“No kidding. What exactly is it made of?” “Just…just stem cells. Mice.” Dallas hesitates only for a second before heading back into his lab. “I’m going to call the authorities!”
Instead, he dashes behind his desk and shrinks out of his clothes (fortunately, he’s taken to wearing his Bantam costume full-time). He runs back down the hallway and into the animal lab. As he dashes up a wall he sees the Blob, jerkily moving toward a lab tech who is cowering in a far corner. Bantam fires electricity toward the beast, aligning the electrons so that a sparking wall of force forms between it and the tech. The Blob moves against it and momentarily stops; that’s when the Guardian erects an electric cage around it.
“Look,” someone from the hallway cries, “it’s Ant-Man!”
“I’m not Ant-Man!” Bantam says as more electricity arcs from his hands. The bolt strikes the creature. It shudders and then is still.
He hears Felicity from the hallway. “Dallas? Where’s Dallas?”
Knowing he has only seconds to preserve his secret identity, Bantam spies a wall outlet. He shrinks even further and leaps into it, riding the electrical current back to his office, emerging from a socket there. He pulls his clothes on and is straightening his tie when Felicity walks through the door. “Dallas! You should’ve seen it! Bantam, of the Guardians, was here! He stopped the thing!”
The day arrives for the unveiling ceremony. The Circle has been blocked off, and two hundred chairs have been arranged on the South side of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Seated to either side of the shrouded sculpture are the Governor, the Mayor, and assorted state and city government officials. Seated on the stage, to either side of the dignitaries, are the Guardians: Lightning Bolt, Fortress, Kid Green, Baron Mind, Bantam, Vapor, and the newest member, Torrent. Dark Witch and Bounder couldn’t make it; Darlene is arguing a case in court, and Elton has a meeting with his parole officer.
The emcee for the event, Channel 6’s Kevin Gregory, introduces the dignitaries to the lunchtime crowd. "Today we honor the memory of those 3114 people who perished all those years ago today, innocent victims of an insane supervillain. Today we also honor those fearless heroes, The Guardians, who put their lives on the line that day against a mad monster.
“We’ll hear from some of Indiana’s Finest in a moment, but first please join me in a moment of silence.”
Next, Governor Mike Pence takes the dais to speak. After him, Mayor Joe Hogsett says a few words. Both praise the Guardians. And then, Lightning Bolt is introduced.
The hero takes the posium. He speaks of being grateful for having stopped Maelstrom and his villain team. He then mocks the bad guy. “All of this needless death, because he wanted to be king! Of one state! ‘Oooh, make me king of Indiana!’ He was insane! And if he showed up here today, we’d stop him again!”
The crowd applauds and cheers as LB retakes his seat. Emcee Gregory then introduces the dancers of the Indiana Repertory Theater. “Please enjoy this special dramatization of that fateful battle, through interpretive dance!”
Costumed dancers emerge from the edges of the crowd. They are dressed as Maelstrom and his Death’s Hand: the demonic Devilar, the albino Halo, the four-armed Tick, the armored Whirlybird (now known as Chopper), and the powerful psionic, Brain (later called PsiLord). They begin to dance as large wind machines, standing on either side of the stage, are cranked up, and dry ice generators waft a low-lying fog over the ground.
Then more dancers appear, these dressed as the members of the Guardians at the time. There is Lightning Bolt; the brutish Monstro; tech expert Thermo; Spider-Man (now calling himself Black Spider) and the late martial artist, Black Panther.
As the dancers engage in mock fisticuffs (and mock flying and mock energy-blasting), dark clouds begin to develop directly overhead. The rumble of thunder can be heard. The dry ice fog seems to thicken and rise, from ankle-height to waist-high in a second. Ever on the alert, Fortress stands and shouts, “Everyone get inside, now!” She quickly grabs one of her four vials of serum and injects herself.
Appearing in individual flashes of light around the stage area are: the speedster who nearly killed Fortress, Friction; Vapor’s murderous ex-wife, Stiletto; the demon-possessed former partner of Baron Mind, Miscountess, who just days ago was delivered in custody to Stronghold; the lightning-goddess-worshipping Conductor; Lightning Bolt’s former lover/sidekick, Blue Streak; Kid Green’s girlfriend Amy, as her costumed alter-ego Scarlet; the four-armed, slow-witted pawn of Maelstrom, Tick; an unknown figure in a black-and-yellow costume; and the mad supervillain himself, Maelstrom. Each has soft blue crackles of energy dancing over their bodies.
Lightning Bolt stands, clutching his shield. “Martin.”
Maelstrom sneers. “Arthur. How rude to commemorate an historic day, yet fail to invite the man who made it so.” He gestures to the sky with his remaining good hand (the other having been destroyed when the tornado device was blown up) and a lightning bolt tears from the cloud and strikes LB. The explosion sends the spectators in his immediate vicinity flying and chairs toppling.
“What do you call this new team, Martin? Death Fist? Stormfinger?”
“No, I think you’ll agree that a much more appropriate name is…The Revengers!”
Blue Streak zips over to LB. “Hi, Shannon. I assume —” She savagely kicks him. “Yeah, that’s what I assumed.”
“You abandoned me! Treated me like shit for over a year, ignored me while I ran your business practically by myself! And then when I’m beaten within an inch of my life, where were you? Where was the hero? This is my payback, Artie!”
The dignitaries are still on the stage, staring in mute shock. Fortress steps over and picks up the podium. Hefting it above her head as a weapon, she leaps toward Stiletto. The villain, in noticeably better armor than the last time she faced the Guardians, produces a sword blade of pure energy from her right gauntlet. She swings and slices the podium in half cleanly as Fortress brings it down toward her head.
The ominous clouds overhead begin to spit rain.
Kid Green moves down the steps, toward Scarlet. “Amy! Thank God you’re alive!”
A glowing red bubble of energy grows around her and she rises into the air. “But my father’s not alive, is he, Jake? He’s dead! Dead because of you!”
Tick, standing a few feet away from the stage, is intent on Fortress. Baron Mind hits him with a Mental Illusion, causing him to think Conductor looks like Fortress. The large man furrows his brow, turning his confused gaze from the real Fortress to Conductor, and back. “Daddy? Tick see two Fortsesses. Tick confused…”
Vapor focuses on the unknown villain, the one in black and yellow. He explodes a puff of knockout gas in his face, to no apparent effect. Sid postulates that the bad guy’s full-face mask is acting as a filter.
Kid, stinging from Amy’s accusations, turns his attention to Maelstrom. He whips out a stalk, but misses. “Arthur, where did you find this freak?” Maelstrom laughs.
Preparing to swing a fist at Stiletto, Fortress hears a sudden rush of air behind her. “Hi, baby! Miss me?” Friction pummels her with a flurry of super-speed punches before wrapping his arms around her. The intense heat radiating from his body plays havoc with her powers. She begins to sweat and feels her strength waning.
Miscountess seeks out Baron Mind. “I’ll have that Gem!” she says in what sounds like two voices, one silky and the other a gravelly rasp. She raises her staff, the end glowing with energy. Baron reaches out with his telekinesis and whips the shroud from the commemorative sculpture, holding it up in mid-air between him and Miscountess. Fire spews from the end of her staff, burning through the canvas like tissue paper.
LB, catching Fortress’ predicament from the corner of his eye, turns and flings his shield at Friction, but misses. The diminutive hero feels Friction’s super-heated aura drive the last of the serum from her system. She’s normal again, and with her arms pinned she can’t quite reach her vials.
Bantam also turns his attention to Friction, hitting him with a stream of electrons meant to resonate in his bones, weakening him. Still the villain hangs on to Fortress. That’s when the unknown villain moves toward Bantam. “You’re no hero!”
“Who are you?” Bantam asks. The man pulls off his mask to reveal a mutilated face, scarred almost beyond recognition. Almost. “Liefeldt!”
“Is this what heroes do, Damon,” the former Dr. Charles Liefeldt asks. “They abandon innocent people? Look well upon me, these scars are yours! This face is your fault! And because your failure to help me has destroyed my life, I will now destroy you!”
Kid Green, somewhat distracted by Amy, fails to hear Tick approach. He feels four large arms wrap around him from behind. “Get your hands off me, Ugly.”
“Hey! Tick not ugly! Tick do okay!” Kid’s skin begins to tingle as Tick leeches energy from him.
LB says through the team comm-link, “Kid! Call him stupid! It drives him nuts!”
Kid: “Okay, get your hands off me, Stupid.” Tick thinks for a second, then bellows with rage.
With Fortress’ attention elsewhere, Stiletto moves away from her to locate Vapor. She finds him and advances, the glow from her sword casting her rage-contorted features in an even more menacing light. “Any last words, worm?”
“No. I’m not going to die.”
“Oh, really? You’re not?” She swings a fist at him. He tries to dodge but fails. She slugs him right in the jaw, sending him sprawling backwards onto the steps. “You little asshole!”
“I missed you too, honey.” He knows she wears nose filters, specifically for him. But he also knows that tear gas works on the tear ducts as well as the sinuses. He blasts her full-on with a facefull. She can still breathe, but her eyes fill with tears. “Aagh! I can’t see! You bastard!”
Conductor teleports next to LB with the crackle of lightning. She grabs him and sparks fly between them. As she feeds on his bio-electricity, she says, “At last! A fitting sacrifice for the Lady of the Lightning!” LB swings his shield and smacks her hard. “Well, she’s still crazy.” An explosion of sparks sends them each tumbling in opposite directions. LB comes up on his feet.
A rock zings past Blue Streak’s head. She turns and sees Torrent. “What the hell are you?” she asks, seeing a woman made of translucent water with bits of debris floating around inside of her. Shannon fires a blue streak of electricity towards Torrent but misses.
This serves to turn Maelstrom’s attention away from LB and toward Torrent. "You must be the famous Water Baby from years ago. Another freak.
“Tell me, child, did Lightning Bolt bother to tell you how my powers work?”
The villain gestures towards Torrent and demonstrates: Maelstrom can affect the moisture in the air, including freezing it. As a blast of cold hits her, Lani feels her body solidifying. In a second she’s frozen solid.
Bantam continues to dodge the energy bolts Liefeldt is firing. He hits the man with an electrical blast of his own, but when it strikes the villain he laughs and begins to glow. Bantam zips over to one of the wind machines, to get some cover and maybe a second of breathing room to figure out what to do next.
Lightning Bolt has concluded that the faint blue glow coruscating around each villain is likely a force field being generated by Blue Streak. “Everyone, pile on the blonde!” He throws his shield toward her but misses.
But everyone is busy with their own problems. Kid Green can feel his strength draining away, and Tick’s grasp getting even stronger. He focuses his remaining energy into one massive effort and breaks free. In the same motion he drops low and swings a leg around, knocking Tick’s out from under him.
Straining within Friction’s grasp, and now powerless, Fortress manages to reach one of her remaining three vials. But instead of injecting herself, she slams the needle into Friction’s leg! “You’re stabbing people now?”
“Sometimes,” she gasps in reply. “Feeling okay?”
Friction’s hold on her weakens and she feels his weight shift. “N-no…what did you do?”
Baron Mind’s force field protects him as Miscountess swings her staff as a cudgel. “I’ll pluck that Gem from your cold, dead head!” she cackles. Baron replies with an attack directly into her brain, turning her cackle into a shriek of pain. She hits him with a wind blast from the staff, but again his mental force field holds.
Stiletto continues to swing blindly, her energy sword sweeping a wide arc in front of her. Vapor edges backwards, staying just out of her reach, until she trips on a step and goes down, cursing all the way.
Maelstrom cocks his head to the side, as if listening to someone whisper in his ear. He then nods and says, “It’s done. Conductor, now!” They both gesture toward the sky. Two streaks of lightning zag through the cloud and merge directly over LB. He tries to raise his shield but is too late; the force of the combined bolt slams him hard into the ground, and despite his natural resistance to electrical damage, it hurts. He lies there, smoking.
Liefeldt blasts the wind machine above Bantam, sending him spinning.
Blue Streak teleports near Fortress. Friction has released her from his grip, he’s stumbling backwards with one hand on his forehead and one on his stomach. Shannon hits her with a sparking blue bolt, a blast which normally would do her no harm at all. But she’s yet to re-inject herself, so the attack hits a normal person. Alyssia is stunned and falls hard to the ground, landing on her remaining vials. The normally shatter-proof glass has also been weakened by the sustained heat of Friction’s aura; they shatter, shards slicing into her hip. The serum, the contents of both remaining vials, is absorbed into her wounds.
Lightning Bolt can sense the fight slipping away. The Revengers have them out-numbered and they were taken by surprise. The battlefield is surrounded by two hundred gaping bystanders, some already injured. He decides there’s only option that keeps everyone safe.
Lightning Bolt stands. Eyes lowered, he drops his famous shield to the ground. He then raises his head, staring right into Martin Langstrom’s eyes. “Leave them alone, it’s me you want. So here I am.”
The steps of the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument grow quiet, apart from the patter of the rain that’s still falling. Maelstrom smiles and shakes his head in disbelief.
“Oh? You’re just…giving up?”
“That’s right. Take me, kill me, whatever. Just leave everybody else alone.”
Langstrom’s brow creases, then clears. The malevolent smile widens. “Kneel.”
Lightning Bolt steps up to him and stops. Some in the crowd gasp as he slowly sinks to one knee.
Maelstrom throws back his head and laughs. "The great Lightning Bolt is mine! After all these years….say goodbye to your friends, Arthur. Say goodbye to everyone and everything! You’ll never see any of it again!
No sooner does Maelstrom call out the name than the villains each disappear just as they appeared, in a flash of bright light. Lightning Bolt, too, is gone. The rain slackens, then stops, and sunlight begins to peek through the cloud.
The remaining Guardians return to HQ only to discover Vulcan and Microwave gone from their cells. Ernest tells them that shortly after they left for the ceremony, Lightning Bolt and Fortress returned and told him they needed to escort the two villains to Stronghold.
A review of security camera footage instead showed two mysterious figures: one, a young adult woman, the second a withered male in a floating wheelchair. His head was larger than normal, as if he suffered from extreme macrocephaly. He also had two faces, side by side on the front of his head.
Vapor is able to identify the male: it’s Janus, a powerful mentalist last known to work for Maelstrom. He apparently overcame Ernest with a mental illusion to change their appearance, and perhaps took control of his mind.