#63: Like Lightning From Heaven, Part 3 (of 3) Apr 18, 2016 7:50:04 GMT -5
Post by Charlie on Apr 18, 2016 7:50:04 GMT -5
Previously, in GREEN LANTERN CORPS...
JOHN STEWART headed to Japan to investigate a team of ring-wielders who could manipulate the elements, only to discover that the fivesome’s mysterious ‘guardian’ was none other than PARALLAX!
With the force of evil and archenemesis of the Corps revealed, JOHN finds himself vastly outgunned and has no choice but to call in the back-up, namely GUY GARDNER!
JOHN STEWART headed to Japan to investigate a team of ring-wielders who could manipulate the elements, only to discover that the fivesome’s mysterious ‘guardian’ was none other than PARALLAX!
With the force of evil and archenemesis of the Corps revealed, JOHN finds himself vastly outgunned and has no choice but to call in the back-up, namely GUY GARDNER!
Welcome back to the ongoing adventures of the GREEN LANTERN CORPS!
TOKYO METROPOLITAN MATSUZAWA HOSPITAL
ONE YEAR AGO:
Matsuzawa Hospital, located in the Setagaya special ward of Tokyo, was famous for a couple of things. Founded in 1879, the institute was one of the best and biggest psychiatric hospitals in the country, with over a thousand beds available in a country where all types of mental illness, be it minor depression, all the way to schizophrenia, were heavily stigmatised.
While the British were known for their stiff upper lip and giving it what-for, the Japanese took the insular nature of suffering to a whole new level. If you experienced mental illness publicly, more than likely you would be pilloried for it. It wasn’t an overstatement to say that the Japanese preferred conformity.
The first of the two visitors was visually striking. He was an American, jittery in his movements, his long, striking copper red hair wild at his shoulders. He was pale, tall and gangly, but the second man loomed over him easily. This second man was Japanese in appearance, sharp features and eyes that laid heavy and steady on the subject of their conversation with the doctor who had met them at the gates.
“It’s late, but she’s through here,” said the doctor. “The patient you called about. We don’t usually do this…”
“Is this the secure unit?” asked the red-haired man, eyes darting, not caring about the doctor’s slight objection.
“Yes, for the more severe patients,” stated the doctor.
“Thought so. You can taste it,” said the red-haired man, lips smacking. “In the air. Like it’s magnetised. Electrons flying. You can tell it’s bad.”
The doctor’s face shifted, thrown by the man’s comment. “Ah, well. Yes, she’s through here.” The two men were consultants. Following up on a specific patient’s progress.
They passed through two secure doors manned by orderlies armed with electric batons. Each door had to be buzzed open by the attendant in the control room. Finally, they arrived at a pane of glass that looked on into a darkened room, a button beside the glass would activate the lights inside.
“It’s after lights out,” explained the doctor. “We control the sensory input the patients receive. We don’t want to excite them too much. Bad things happen when they get going.”
Considering this, the taller of the two men spoke slowly. His Japanese was perfect, like the red-haired man’s, but he had no accent to identify where he had hailed from. “And she’s here, why?”
“Pardon? Oh.” The doctor itched in his own skin. The way the red-haired man looked at him, the way the tall man smiled. He felt uncomfortable in this situation but didn’t know how to get out of it. Best to answer their questions. “Young Yamada Naito here murdered her entire family, cousins, uncles, grandparents. The specific details are… truly awful. They never found all the pieces. But the heads… they found the heads. Seventeen, all lined up. Apart from what she said when they found her, she hasn’t uttered a word. Covered in their blood. Her stomach filled with…” He shook his head. As if a simple physical movement could remove the knowledge of what this woman had done.
“What did she say when they found her?” asked the red-haired man.
The doctor cleared his throat. “She claimed that her guardian, the whispering oni, encouraged her to do what she did. And that she felt no shame. And that, until he came back, she wouldn’t say a word more.” He shivered. Not voluntarily. “There were drawings throughout the house of the guardian of hers. Yellow skin, razor sharp teeth. A true horror.”
“What’s an oni?” The word danced off the red-haired man’s lips.
“A demon,” said the tall man. “A demon whispered in her ear.”
The red-haired man looked over at the tall man. “Then it is her.” Excited. Barely able to contain himself. The way his eyes moved, darted from place to place, if the doctor had been more cognisant of his situation, knew what he was walking into, he’d have recognised the fact that the red-haired man was utterly, irrevocably insane, and that he was a hair’s breadth from reaching out and tearing the poor doctor’s face off.
“Yes,” said the tall man, in agreement. “Beautifully so.”
“What do you mean?” The doctor was confused. A little bit scared.
A light went out on the other end of the corridor. A quiet smash as an intense heat burned right through the element and the small explosion shattered the bulb.
“Mister may I?” asked the red-haired man. Giddy now, rolling toe-heel-toe-heel as all the potential kinetic energy in his body began to overtake him. He wasn’t looking at the doctor, he was looking at the black glass, like a dark ocean full of possibilities. A single, pale hand, small enough to be barely noticed, pressed up from on the inside. Yamada..?
Another light fitting shattered. More darkness came toward them like the tide was coming in.
“Alex, you know you needn’t ask,” said the tall man, the skin slipping off his face in wet chunks to reveal a horrific, inhuman visage underneath. “Doctor, I think you know who I am.”
“O-Oni,” whispered the doctor. The face that was now revealed on the tall man’s face was all the more horrible since the doctor recognised it from the drawings on Yamada’s bedroom wall. “You’re him.”
Parallax smiled, razor-sharp teeth flashing as the lights still intact throughout the hospital began to flicker on and off. After a few dread seconds longer, the fixtures shattered, and darkness finally flooded down the corridor completely. The doctor shrieked, stumbled back a few steps, but Parallax caught him with an arm long enough to take him at such distance and snap the life out of his body with a twist of his wrist.
Meanwhile, Alex Nero grinned as the hole in his chest caught light, fire spreading outwards and taking hold of his entire body. “I love this part.” He was on fire, a word on his lips, “ignition”, and his rather modest business suit and battered tie was replaced by a crackling red body suit, fire emanating from the centre-- above where his heart would have been, if it hadn’t been transformed by Parallax’s own twisted abilities-- as well as at his hair, his wrists, his ankles.
Nero cast a beam of energy from the centre of his palm at the wall that separated the duo from the girl-- Yamada’s-- cell, and suddenly there was a gap where a lean, pale young woman could step through. Her eyes were downcast, black pits around her eyes that made them look like craters. She looked at Nero, then at Parallax, and where most would scream as the doctor did, she smiled.
“Guardian, are you here to make me great?” She asked. “I always you would come. After your whispers…”
“And you listened,” said Parallax, gently cupping her chin with his thin, razor-tipped fingers. “One of the first to listen so clear, so loud. Now, I have to ask you, do you want to come with us? We’re recruiting, and you’d make a delightful addition.”
“Yes,” said Yamada. No hesitation. She opened her arms up in prostrate surrender, and with a smile on his madness-riddled face, Alex Nero plunged a flaming hand through her chest and clasped at her now visible heart. Veins of shifting, liquid fire flowed from out of him and into her, and she too began to transform. No screams, only smiles, laughter, her body sloughing off everything it didn’t need to be one of Parallax’s soldiers.
All Parallax needed was madness… the ability to create chaos… body and bone wasn’t required, and the process, the transformation, would give Yamada everything she’d need to survive what came next, just as it had Alex Nero all those months ago*.
*Green Lantern Annual #2
“Welcome to my Effigies, Young Yamada-San,” said Parallax, as she stood revealed, transcendent, her slim body now encased in the same crimson material as Nero’s, her hair aflame, her eyes glistening. “Oh, do I have plans for you.”
Burning scarlet, two humans, riddled with insanity, their flames of madness encouraged by the dark demon figure of Parallax, worshipped their patron. Parallax himself, his armour now revealed, black and gold, his clawed fingers crackling against each other as the tips touched, him deep in thought.
“What say we murder everyone in this building first?” offered Parallax. “Your baptism into our order?”
Yamada bent over, dug a scolding hot finger into the temple of the now deceased doctor, and licked the cerebral matter that clung to the tip. “Yes, please.”
The hospital was ash by the morning. Nearly eight hundred dead. No one knew how it happened. All they knew… was that death had come to Tokyo, and nothing they could have done would have prepared them.
Issue Sixty-THREE: "Like Lightning From Heaven"
HoM / FLINCHUM
Above San Francisco, Guy Gardner’s ears piqued up as John’s transmission came through, and was almost immediately cut short. “Guy, I’ve got a potential Manhunter problem-- “
Then John had ended transmission. Manhunters? The things that had occupied Oa for over a year, led the Green Lantern Corps to the lowest they’d been in forever? He began to dart toward John’s last known location. Their communication link was static, some kind of heavy duty transmission blocker was keeping them apart, but Guy could traverse the globe in a matter of minutes. Black Hand could wait. Hal Jordan could--
--Hal Jordan was in mortal danger and not picking up the phone. There was no way for Guy to contact Chloe Sullivan, the Global Peace Agency were one of the most secretive organisations in the world and when they dropped off the map, the map went with them. Hal Jordan was being hunted by a vicious serial killer who thought he was dead, and Guy Gardner was hot on his trail.
“John, this is Gardner, do you need assistance? I’m en-route,” said Guy. Desperation clear in his voice. “What’s going on?”
What about Hal…?
“Godammit, Highball, you shoulda picked up your phone,” snapped Guy.
Then one word broke over the static filling the communication channel that connected Guy’s ring to John’s.
Guy’s eyes opened wide and put the pedal to the metal. This was bad news-- world-endingly bad news! And unfortunately, as much as Hal Jordan was his brother, he had to prioritise! His other brother was in danger--!
The golden constructs around John Stewart’s body crackled as Parallax loomed over his captive. John Just prayed the transmission got out of his ring. He was focusing all his immense will on Guy, getting the word out, but Parallax had his claws into his willpower, clamping down with his will-devouring might onto John’s consciousness.
Parallax snapped his fingers and the gag covering John’s mouth vanished. He took a breath, the caustic air, burned bright by Parallax’s powers tasted of fire and bone. He glanced down at where Rex Mason had fallen, and noted that his old friend had evaporated, unable to hold himself together.
“What good do you think that’ll do you?” asked Parallax. “Guy Gardner? I’ve seen into his thoughts. I’ve nibbled at the fringe of his being. He’s a nothing.”
“I took a chunk out of you,” gasped John, every breath a struggle, as he gestured with a jerk of his head toward Parallax’s right arm, absent from the shoulder, replaced by a golden construct. The devastating injury John had inflicted months ago*. “I can’t wait to see what Gardner does to you next.”
*Green Lantern Corps #56
Kyoko Goto, the Ultra Element Force 5 member who went by the moniker of Ether Void Queen, blasted John in the chest, searing meat and muscle. Parallax smiled at his protégé. This young girl, who wielded an immense power unlike the others in the team she was part of, clearly hated the Green Lantern. But why? How? Who was she really?
“What’s the play here, Parallax? What’s with the people you kidnapped, these kids you gave rings to?”
Parallax smiled that deadly predator smile of his. “The natural state of this universe is chaos,” he said. Barbs began to rise out of the constructs binding John tight. “I came to understand that when the Guardians allowed my people to burn. After their Manhunters had laid waste to the galaxy for billions of years, after I was given the first Green Lantern ring and dragged the cosmos back from the brink, I could see how delicate the balance was. And then the Guardians allowed my people to burn, and they thought I was unworthy of their cause. It was them who were unworthy of me!”
“Oh, brother, dodge the question why don’t you,” spat John.
“I did it for fun, John,” replied Parallax. “I want to ruin the legacy of the Guardians across the entire universe. Bastardise their creations. Ruin the Green Lantern Corps. Co-opt their technology and unleash maybe and horror in every space sector in the known galaxy. This was a test. A test that went beautifully. So now I get to continue the game, continue unleashing horror. And I get to rub your face into it. Then we’ll--”
“You bastards like to talk, when are you going to get it in your thick head that the only way you’re going to stop me kicking your ass is getting over with it and killing me?”
Parallax laughed. Casually broke John’s arm with a twist of a construct. Barbs dug deep into John’s muscles. Tearing. Scratching. Burrowing toward bone. He was being torn apart from the inside, and the Green Lantern couldn’t muster the will to escape, thanks to Parallax’s own dark influence.
“Excuse me if I like to hear my voice,” said Parallax. “I was imprisoned in the Central Power Battery for billions of years. Reduced to a quiet whisper into the hearts of every ring the Green Lanterns-- my brothers, my successors, wore…”
That much was true. John remembered the lowdown from Hal. When that brainwashed agent of Apokoliptikan destruction, the Green Lantern known as Carthag, his mind twisted by Granny Goodness’ machinations, detonated the Central Power Battery*, it let Parallax out.
*The classic Tales of the Green Lantern Corps #9
The first Green Lantern went on to possess Hal Jordan, drove him mad with fear, until he exorcised those demons thanks to Kyle Rayner*. This habit of Green Lanterns being corrupted by great external power… when would it happen to John? A fear for another time…
*Back in Green Lantern #14
Then, after all that time as a disembodied consciousness, the monster re-manifested physically. Took his old, monstrous form*, wielding a power borne from that time stuck in the Central Power Battery. A living energy being, abilities on par with Kyle Rayner, the Torchbearer, Ion, then later the White Lantern.
*Also back in Green Lantern Annual #2
Now look where they were.
“…So, excuse me if I go on a bit,” said Parallax.
“You’re excused,” said Guy Gardner, knocking Kyoko backwards, head over heels, and sending Parallax back a few metres thanks to one hell of an emerald cannon burst. The constructs enshrouding John evaporated, and the Green Lantern’s ring went to work on repairing his busted wing. Down below, the three surviving members of Ultra Element Force 5 fell to the ground unconscious, Kyoko’s concentration shot and her control over them removed violently.
Guy had appeared from nowhere, moving so fast that a sonic boom echoed out as he came to a stop. He wasn’t going to leave his friend hanging at the best of times, let alone the worst. “What I miss?” he asked, sweat pouring from his face. He’d pushed himself hard to get here as soon as humanly possible, and he was about to push himself even harder.
John grimaced, the residual pain from his battered body screaming, even as his ring knit him back together. “Remember I told you about that time I cut off Parallax’s arm?”
“Yeah, I thought you were ribbing me,” said Guy.
“Nope. And now he’s pissed off and looking for revenge,” said John.
“It’s never that simple,” said Parallax. He blasted Guy and John back, their shields working overtime, taxing their systems, to keep them safe from harm. “Even as we speak, I’m multitasking. You’re just children. Barely born. I’ve been doing this since the birth of your civilisation.”
“Don’t give a ####,” said Guy, his words violent and full of spite. He glanced down at the rooftop below. “What's with the broad?” Even as they reinforced their shields, Guy gestured toward Kyoko, who was pulling herself up from where she’d fallen. Half her face had slipped off, a trick more than likely taught to her by Parallax, and a second face, deep pits of black around her eyes, wide, downcast eyes visible between the slips of skin still clinging to her head, became prominent.
“Yamada, please keep these irritants entertained while I tear the walls of reality down,” said Parallax, dismissively.
“Gladly,” said Yamada, her costume burning away to reveal the Crimson costume underneath.
“Jeez, looks like she’s got the same screwy cosmic fire power as Alex Nero!” noted Guy. “I always hated that guy.”
“Alex Nero is worthy of your hatred!” screamed Yamada as she shot toward the duo. Her flames licked at the constructs they generated and the two Green Lanterns were amazed-- and somewhat concerned-- by the fact that their energies began to melt. “Alex Nero is a--” Yamada was cut off by a sonic shriek of sound that emerged from the mouth of a petite girl surrounded by garishly clad teenagers.
“Who in the--?” asked Guy, sticking his little finger in his ear, trying to clear up the reverb he was currently experiencing.
“I’ll be damned… it’s the Super Young Team,” said John. He was surprised at the relief in his voice. “We just got some back up!” Did they though? These were children-- dismissed by Ultimon, who was clearly Parallax in disguise*-- but was that an indictment of his own elitist attitudes or the truth?
*Green Lantern Corps #61
Stewart noticed who’d rallied the heroes-- Metamorpho was bringing up the rear, quickly coming up at the front of the gathering heroes. Not only was Super Young Team present, but the elder Big Science Action, along with numerous other Japan-based adventurers. The surviving members of Ultra Element Force 5 were cleared out by a speedster, taken, presumably, to the nearest hospital.
“Sorry to have left you hanging like that, Johnny,” said Metamorpho, reconstituting himself near his old army buddy. “But I thought it best to get help. Care to catch me up?”
“I’m not even sure of what went on with Ultra Element Force 5,” said John. “Some sort of experiment of Parallax’s perhaps. He had kidnapped aliens hooked up to some sort of machine, linking their abilities to manipulate the elements to fuel their rings.” He grimaced. “They’re still linked up, I can’t cut the link, I don’t know if it’ll hurt them more…” He looked up at the sky, where Parallax was floating. “…What’s he doing?”
Parallax extended his energy hand outwards and his talons rend against the air. With an immense effort, he began to tear-- away-- at-- reality--
The villain batted away twin beams of emerald energy as the Green Lanterns went after him. While the Japanese heroes battled the woman known as Yamada, Parallax was their responsibility, and he looked happy to take them up on their challenge.
John heard himself hiss, but he threw himself into the task at hand. He surged forward and began to pummel the monster in the stomach with jack-hammer blasts from his ring, and when Parallax spun toward him, Stewart drew back his fist and slammed it into the monster’s jaw. Black blood exploded out of Parallax’s mouth, and Stewart took a split second to note the creature was still smiling. He kicked out, moving impossibly fast, and send John back toward Guy.
Parallax wiped the blood from his lips. “The Guardians never truly figured out how to strip me of the power of the first Green Lantern ring… and after living for so long, one begins to manifest more power than one ever thought possible--”
Energy bursts were exchanged, Parallax shrugging off the best the Green Lanterns could throw, and the two heroes narrowly dodging his attacks. Whenever a stray bolt grazed their auras, pain ran like electricity down their spines, sending seizures into their bodies and causing their rings to nearly short out. Guy cried out as he caught a blast on the leg, burning through his shield and spreading hot, liquid energy over his leg. The ring triggered chemical responses in his body, flooding him with adrenaline, and generating the painkillers required to keep operating. He flashed back to a similar situation, when Xa-Du had taken him apart piece-by-piece, and how his ring knew how to keep him going. The similarity in experience did nothing to make him feel better.
John looped round, amazing aerial acrobatics, caught Guy under his arm and continued to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge Parallax’s attack.
Above the battle, a sound, like a roar, began to grow as five points of incandescent light-- where Parallax had clutched reality itself-- began to grow and spread into existence. The roar of monsters, John quickly realised. During this, Gardner grimaced. That was a dimensional tear opening up. He’d seen similar manifestations of damage during his time in the Daxamite colony, that damn Phantom Zone projector*.
*Just read Green Lantern Corps #57-59 for the whole story
“Monsters,” whispered John. “He’s opening the dimensional tear that separates the monster dimension from Japan. Good God.”
Parallax continued to rant. “Power gestates. Mutates. Green becomes something purer. Will transforms into something better. I am the ultimate survivor. The ultimate victor-- and I-- will--”
Parallax choked as a cloud of smoke wrapped around his limbs. He coughed up horrifically as the smoke seeped into his skin, into his mouth and eyes. He suddenly convulsed, his talons releasing their grip on the corners of reality, and toppled down.
Across Parallax’s chest manifested the desperate face of Metamorpho, the Element Man!
“Throwing every deadly toxin I can think of at this guy, and all I’m doing is giving him a coughing fit!” shouted Metamorpho. “I need a plan here, Johnny!”
“Deal with him, I’ll sort this out,” said Guy, gesturing toward the hole in the sky, where claws began to become visible against the reddening skies. Universal damage! Tears in the membrane of reality! Red skies! Crisis!
John knew that there was no plan for containing Parallax. No protocol for a monster of his immensity. The Guardians were AWOL, taking any Parallax contingency with them. The Book of Oa was coming up empty with possibilities. There was something, some scant information in his ring, about a region of space full of cosmic distortions, black holes and deadly space time events, where the worst monsters could be locked away*, but before John could even begin to formulate a plan, Parallax expunged Metamorpho’s taint from his body and sent him reeling across the space separating the villains and the Green Lantern.
*Uh oh! As seen in DC2 Nemesis #7
“That guy should be dead ten times over,” said Mason, gritting his teeth. “I gave him everything I--”
“An interesting distraction,” said Parallax. “But a distraction none the less.” He clicked his fingers and Mason’s eyes opened wide as his body began to harden. Cracks began to run across his torso toward his face. He looked over at Stewart, trying to speak but unable to find the words--
“--Rex? Oh, no, R--”
The Element Man exploded into hundreds of razor-sharp shards, and John barely got his shield up in time. Mason was gone-- destroyed by Parallax, and the ancient monster laughed at the look on Stewart’s face.
“This is so fun, don’t you think?” Parallax looked up at Gardner and his efforts to seal the rift in space and time. There were great, big reptilian things flapping their wings, flexing their claws and growling with diamond sharp teeth, all waiting to get free from the rift. “A hole in space that unleashes horrors…” He looked back at John. “…The ultimate doomsday weapon.”
Even as the Japanese superhero contingent battled Yamada, their efforts unable to bring the crazed villain to her knees, Parallax was smiling. Everything was going his way. He considered his energy arm, then John, back to the rift and back to John.
And behind Parallax, high in the sky, element lights began to become clear. Dozens. John recognised the tone, the sound of the light, as he’d been on the receiving end of a cavalry ride many a time. Guy battled against the nature of the rift, fighting to seal it shut, and behind Parallax-- the Green Lantern Corps were on their way!
Sinestro led a charge of the Green Lantern Corps. A dozen or so rings raised. For Sinestro though, a spiked ball construct forming at his fist. Anger and rage in his eyes. Parallax was the one who drove him into the dirt. Made him a pawn. It was Parallax that Sinestro had to die to escape from. And now--
“Die, you bastard! Die!” screamed Sinestro. A moment of rage, of anger, and an expression certain members gathered had never seen on his face. But they didn’t know what Parallax did to him. They would never know, because Thaal would never say. But if he could make this man suffer…
--Parallax turned at the last moment and caught the mace in the jaw, sending his head yawning outward all the bones in his neck had turned to dust. And then he swung round, his face intact, his smile stretching across his face.
“Hello, my old friend,” said Parallax. He reached out to touch Thaal like one would a lover. “It’s been so long since we last shared a quiet moment.”
John sent munitions into the heart of the monster, and then the Green Lantern Corps went to work. A contingent branched off to assist Guy Gardner. Others went to assist the local heroes, while the rest focused their efforts on the greatest villain ever to threaten the Green Lantern Corps.
Parallax took every attack, every construct, every single ounce of energy… and laughed it off.
“Come on, did you really think it was going to be that easy?” Said the dread demon. He clenched his fists, drew them toward his chest, and then lashed out, sending a tidal wave of crackling golden energy outward, rocking those gathered toward the ground, their rings quaking with the aftershocks of their enemy’s attack.
Katma Tui rallied beside John, fighting past the pain, as did Sinestro. The three of them focused-- and Parallax just shook his head before they could even launch their attack.
“No oath, no unity, no way in hell do you have what it takes to put me down,” said Parallax. He raised his hand up, and the power rings on the fingers of the Green Lanterns seemed to draw them toward the sky by their hands-- how was Parallax doing this? He was manipulating the Oan metal that made up their rings!-- and then he slammed his hand down, sending the Green Lanterns toward the Tokyo streets below!
Parallax shot a look at the profusely sweating Guy Gardner as he led his team of Green Lanterns in trying to knit reality back together, but he sent them flying to the wayside with a gesture of his hand. He lifted himself up toward the dimensional tear, and then smiled as he saw Yamada battered by the forces of the Green Lanterns, Big Science Action and Super Young Team. He clicked his fingers, and she was teleported to his side.
“I’ve untethered this region of space,” said Parallax, stroking her hair. “We can leave now.”
“But the Green Lanterns aren’t dead yet,” said Yamada, seething, energy spurting out of her.
“No, but now they know… they don’t stand a chance against me,” said Parallax. He looked down at where the Green Lanterns were rallying, and shook his head. “It’s all so sad, don’t you think?”
The two of them vanished, and above Tokyo, a massive shriek was unleashed, refusing to stop. A chunk of reality had been removed from where it was moored, the dimensional rift where the monsters emerged from nearly half a century ago, gone, as simple as that. But in its absence, a reality storm had formed, violent and sudden.
“He’s gone,” whispered John.
“C’mon,” said Guy, grabbing John by the shoulder, his hair whipping upwards. “Damage control.” He sent a transmission through his ring. “On me, Lanterns! On me or we lose this island!”
The dozen or so Green Lanterns that Sinestro had led to Earth after John’s transmission to Oa back when he was in orbit rallied around Gardner, and their will became one. They sheltered Japan, the entire island, in a protective shield, even as reality twisted and shook. They’d never been so close to such a devastating cosmic event. Some didn’t even know it was possible to survive such close exposure to a gap in space. But the Green Lanterns focused their minds, spread the wings of their imaginations, and placed a salve on the wound. They focused with all their might, all their hearts, until the storm ended, and there was a silence above the country.
It was night. Where the dimensional tear once was, now floated an aurora borealis effect of emerald and gold light, swirling together, interlocked. Not that they knew it then, but now, every month, the Japanese nights would be a tapestry of energy signatures, a reminder of how an entire island had nearly died. Millions dead due to one monster’s whim.
“We came as soon as we could,” said Sinestro. “When you said Manhunters, I was authorised to pull any available Lanterns to your sector. After the losses to the Red Lanterns… that’s not as many as I would have preferred*.” He grimaced. “If we had more… perhaps we could have…”
*At last count in Green Lantern 50, the active roster of the Green Lanterns numbered 372…
John shook his head. “Parallax is immensely powerful, I don’t know what difference it would have made.” He looked at Guy. “Thanks for pulling my ass out of the fire. I was a goner, for sure. And we lost Metamorpho… Godammit, we lost Rex…”
Guy said nothing. What did he want to say? Yeah, you won’t be thanking me when I call in that marker, he thought. Black Hand. Black Hand is still active.
“Where did he go?” asked Katma. “Parallax is immensely dangerous, and just one of his followers held five of our most experienced Lanterns at bay.”
“Could be anywhere,” said John. “He once told me… he’d weaponise the universe against us. And that dimensional rift… Godammit!! It was all that separated this reality from one where monsters roam. Imagine…”
“He can pop the lock and unleash hell on any world he wants,” said Guy. “Doesn’t take much imagination, John. The bad guy won today.”
Stel, current drill sergeant of the Green Lanterns, descended, the emerald construct John left in orbit containing the victims of Parallax’s scheme, the three surviving elemental aliens, in tow. <Lantern Stewart, I have begun the process of untethering the elemental power rings from the kidnap victims. I will be transporting them to Oa to finalise the procedure.>
Katma placed a hand on John’s shoulder. “Guy’s wrong, then. The bad guy didn’t win. Not all the way.”
John shook his head. “Parallax took our best…”
Sinestro cringed. Something in his chest, next to his heart, pounding. “He always does…”
John turned away and looked at where Rex had been obliterated. Metamorpho, dead, fighting a battle he was never supposed to be part of. But wasn’t that the hero’s way?
John watched as Mason began to reform, from gaseous to solid, a worn out smile on his face and a staccato series of words leaving his rapidly returning mouth.
“Never been a death I can’t come back from,” said Mason. “That bastard tweaked my bodily functions, couldn’t control myself, but after I separated, I was able to will myself back together.” He yelped as Stewart embraced him. “Jeez, I was only gone for ten minutes!” It was less. Five minutes, maybe. All this, this tiny little cosmic war above Japan, had taken place over a fraction of a day.
Guy had been on the scene for less than ten minutes. Before then, Parallax was gloating for five. Then five minutes, the Green Lantern Corps, the untethering of space and reality.
“God,” whispered John. “That monster really did a number on us…” He glanced over at Guy. “And how was your day?”
ELEVEN YEARS AGO:
Bombs hadn’t fallen on Quarac for a few days, but that didn’t mean military operations had ceased. A small team of special operatives had hustled into the capital the night before, set up base in a former hospital that had no hope of holding patients any time soon, and they were currently being briefed on the situation by a private consultant on loan from one of the biggest corporations the United States had ever seen.
“…Gonna be honest with you folks, you’re entering a grade A ####storm coming to Quarac this time of the year,” said Rex Mason, as he stood in front of the marine squad that had been tasked to the area. “Insurgents hate anybody with the ol’ stars an’ stripes plastered to their arm, and the locals aren’t much better. Just ‘cause it’s been a few years since mission accomplished, doesn’t mean the mission… has been accomplished.”
“Thanks for the pep talk,” said Corporal Bradley Roth. “Mister Mason here has been on the ground since the US made a move against the country. Part of the private security force responsible for some of the major contractors making their living in the Green Zone. He’s our eyes and ears, and he knows the lay of the land better than any of us. So if he says drop to the floor, you better be on the ground before the first bullets fly, you hear me, people?”
“Sir, yes sir!” responded the soldiers in the squad. They had started tearing off the badges that identified them as US military. For what was coming, they wanted anonymity. Even the weapons they’d been dropped with were non-standard munitions.
“Jeez, reminds me why I went private,” said Rex. “I assume you’re losing the dog tags too?”
“Of course,” said Roth.
Mason considered one of the rifles the squad bought with them. He checked the scope of it and let out a low whistle, until another soldier grabbed the barrel and lowered it from Mason’s head.
“That’s not yours,” stated Sergeant John Stewart.
“What do you want for it?” asked Mason.
Stewart shot him a look of disdain. “It’s not for sale.”
Roth chuckled and patted Stewart on the back. “Builder here is our resident eye in the sky. Couldn’t ask for a better sniper. That rifle has been spec’d out to his specification.”
“It’s not US hardware, for sure,” said Mason. “Keep it. I got what I need here,” he patted his side holsters. “I don’t intend to need anything bigger.”
“We requisitioned Russian munitions for this mission,” said Roth. “Just another bundle of Cold War rejects wandering the desert. You get us where we wanna go, you can have the rifle when we’re done.”
“Sir--!” started Stewart.
“Builder” interrupted Roth. “It’s not like we’re going to be able to take it back home with us.”
“Sir,” nodded Stewart. “I’ll be keeping the scope.”
Mason grinned. “Fair’s fair. I like you, son. What’s your name? Builder? We’re gonna’ be best of friends. You and me are gonna’ go places.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” replied John, checking his rifle for damage.
DEEP IN THE FORBIDDEN SECTORS:
<No Man Escapes The Manhunters!> There voices were as one, a legion of unstoppable, nanite-infused automatons. Millions of robotic soldiers, gold and grey, clutching the power-bending energy staffs that allowed them to unleash blasts of colossal energy. If a Green Lantern was nearby, their faces would clank open and the energy drain would activate. A ring-wielder would be reduced to normality, and then death, in seconds.
Foot soldiers in the coming war.
Parallax looked down at the plateau, where his robotic legion stood, chanted their mantra, and he smiled. These were the force of mechanical nature that had taken him away from his home-world for thousands of years. He’d battled Manhunters in the name of the Guardians of the Universe, wiped them off the face of the galaxy, and then was betrayed by the little blue imps that empowered him.
He turned and looked at Yamada, sat with her legs crossed in the corner of the room. She held out her hand and flames flickered across her palm. Let her have her fun. She proved herself capable of holding her own against a contingent of the Green Lantern Corps. Even if it had become clear to him that it was Yamada who had allowed the Pyreonox to escape his cell and murder the bearer of the Fire Ring. But that was absolutely fine with Parallax. Discord, seeds of chaos, it was all fair game. He knew that the fire that fuelled his lieutenants was capable of wonders. The fires of madness… and what did he expect when he recruited lunatics? Insanity as art, as horror. Beautiful.
Pleased, Parallax moved through the catacombs of his base. In the science chambers, Evil Star was still tethered to a machine, his insides exposed, the extra internal organs he’d grown to accommodate the energy beings he had absorbed over the last year or so pulsing with the relevant power. This man, the former Green Lantern who went mad when he absorbed the lives of evil doers, was a living, breathing power battery. When was properly adjusted to his situation, he’d make a formidable knight.
On his right, lay the Predator, curled up and asleep. The violet-tinged monster was all razor sharp edges and a hunter’s nose, ready to track down love and devour it at a moment’s notice. To the other side of Evil Star sat the other dimensional Parallax, a being of immense energy that bore a passing resemblance to Hal Jordan. This misshapen thing was an aberration from another reality. The universe where the Red Lanterns had emerged from, intent on revenge. Parallax’s tanks. Capable of infecting, tearing, ripping Green Lanterns apart from their rings and out. Beautiful.
So, as Evil Star was a living power battery, capable of absorbing things greater than himself, Parallax would ensure that more monsters of a certain type would be drawn into his being soon enough. This would be his precaution against Red Lanterns, Love Lanterns, even the Green Lanterns if he got bored of their battles. He would simply unleash the Evil Star, and absorb all their energies once and for all.
Parallax kept moving. Alex Nero came to meet him. “How goes your holy mission, Alex?”
Nero smiled. “You would be surprised by the amount of madness in this universe, if you weren’t so intrinsic to its spread.”
“How many Effigies have you ignited?” asked Parallax. He admired his bishop. A lowly human, riddled with madness, elevated by the fires ignited in his soul. Powerful. Defiant. Loyal to a fault and nursing a hatred from the Green Lantern Corps for no other reason than it was his master’s will. Beautiful, beautiful…
“Over eighty thousand at last count, my Lord,” said Nero. “Across the universe, they await your command. Across the universe, they await your word. Chaos will burn this universe down. And the Green Lantern Corps will never see them coming.”
Parallax smiled with that razor sharp mouth of his. He glanced up, at the mechanical sphere that orbited the world they called home. The third moon of this unnamed planet, it's roaring engines and horrific weapons platforms primed for war. Ranx fumed, bursts of pollution ejected from the many access ports across his body. The living city, the thriving, sentient planet, was impatient, eager to inflict horrors across the universe. Parallax almost sent a thought it's way. Soon. As simple as that. Soon.
A dimensional tear sat in Parallax’s hand. A time bomb that would, when active, send monsters as tall as buildings at an unsuspecting world, where they would destroy and destroy and destroy.
There were other horrors to harvest across the universe. A man who thought he was dead walked the Earth, and it was thanks to Parallax's prodding and cultivating that he’d come to be. Black Hand stalked Hal Jordan, unknowingly at the behest of the pale monster who loved chaos.
Parallax knew of the scythe-bearers, come into being mere days ago. Theirs was a story he’d wished to watch unfold. There was one active right now. Soon there would be more.
Takron Galtos promised spoils when it was split open. The countless other prison planets, across the universe, his Effigies pouring into the cracks, ready to double up and split them open. Topple the walls. Break everything open. Chaos would reign.
Parallax knew of the Red Lanterns, hidden behind the Crimson energy walls around Sector 666. He’d aggravated their leader, Atrocitus, in the waning moments of the Green / Red Lantern War, nearly a year ago. Would they join him? Or would they be a third army, wild cards, horrors inflicted at their hands, but not at his order? Who cared. Murder was murder. Slaughter was slaughter.
Then there were the other Earth-locked. The rogue Star Sapphire, hidden in plain sight. The disfigured telepath rotting in the basement of the dank prison. So many beautiful horrors…
The countless enemies of the human Green Lanterns, all wanting a crack at the universe that tormented them so.
So, here he stood. Full in the knowledge that Parallax had gathered an army.
An army that outnumbered the Green Lantern Corps countless-to-one..
Parallax was the happiest monster alive.
Guy sat in John’s apartment, along with Katma and Sinestro. The Green Lanterns that Thaal had dragged across the universe to this bauble were gone, having rebuilt the damaged buildings in Japan, and now the four friends were collecting themselves. John had passed around bottles of beer. Katma asked for water, but Guy convinced her to give a bottle a go. Thaal nursed his, Guy was on his second. Alcohol didn’t concern the ring-bearers, the jewellery on their fingers capable of expunging the bad stuff within seconds of it entering their bodies. But camaraderie dictated a level of relaxing, and this was all Guy knew to suggest. Not like they could play charades. What next?
“Black Hand is back,” said Guy, finally. The others could tell that something was bothering him, but he had kept it bottled up. Against good advice, he knew. The more he shared, the better he would be at dealing with the coming storm. “And I can’t track him down.”
“Black Hand?” said Katma, not familiar with the threat. Sinestro stood by the window, contemplating some far off thought.
“Black Hand swapped bodies with Hal back when Oa was occupied,” said John. “Took a miracle to bring him down, get Hal back in his own body.” He rubbed his chin. “And he’s back?”
“And on a murder spree,” said Guy. He took a long swig of his beer. “His genetic profile is scrambled. I’ve been running down leads, but it’s not got me any closer to finding him. He’s back and he’s after Hal, and I can’t get in touch with the latter.”
“No response via ring-to-ring?” asked Katma.
“None,” said Guy. “But he went to ground with his lady love, with her and the kid. To live a normal life. If he’s not wearing the ring, if he’s let the charge lapse, how are we supposed to get in touch?”
“And how is this Black Hand tracking him?” asked Sinestro.
“I don’t know, but I can’t let it lie,” said Guy. “Good thing I’m grounded to sectors duty. I’m not dropping this case.”
“I’ll help,” said John. “We’ll pick up the thread tonight. But not only that, how do we stop Parallax? His powers can negate our own. Just being in his presence negates our rings; the fire he fills his followers with, Nero, that Yamada woman, it melts our energy constructs.”
“We need someone of equal footing,” said Sinestro. “Someone wielding a power beyond the Green Lantern Corps.”
Realisation filling them, Guy looked at John, the idea popping into their head at the same time. “Kyle. The answer is Kyle,” said Guy.
“Who?” said Sinestro. But then something hit him square in the back of his brain. Memories. It was an odd thing to realise, considering his history—their history—but it struck him like a gong. “Oh, my Gods. I’d forgotten him!”
“Well, he can pretty beige,” said Guy, smiling. “But he’s your charge, what did you do with him?”
“I don’t… I don’t…” mumbled Sinestro. He looked lost.
“Who’s Kyle Rayner?” asked Katma. “Why is that name so familiar?”
John looked at Guy, and the latter almost broke into a laugh. Stewart gave him a look, the one capable of transmitting meaning at light speed, and Gardner said nothing. John spoke instead. He could sense Katma’s confusion, and that only meant one thing. “Kyle Rayner. Current White Lantern. Former Torchbearer, former Ion. Does that ring any bells?”
“I don’t…” started Katma. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I can barely remember him,” said Sinestro, shocked. “But there was the planet in the Forbidden Sectors where we both manifested after our deaths… where Jessica Jordan landed after the Predator tossed her into the void… I remember Parallax clearly, what he did to me… but after I detonated the ship I escaped in… It’s a blur until Oa, until the Red Lanterns… I finally remembered his name. Kyle Rayner.”
“Ring?” asked John. “Where is Kyle Rayner?”
<Unable to comply with request. No record of designate // Kyle Rayner // in Book of Oa.>
Guy looked down at his ring, asked the same question and got an identical response. “Oh, ####.”
“Something’s happened to Kyle,” said Sinestro. “The most powerful being in the universe. The only man with enough power to defeat Parallax… And he’s lost. We have to find him!”
“No kidding,” said Guy.
“Yeah,” agreed John. “Today just got a whole heap worse.”
NEVER THE END!
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NEXT ISSUE: After facing off against Lex Luthor and his mysteriously resurrected ex-wife Terri Henshaw, Hank lost the will to wield a power ring! John Stewart absconded his friend to a mysterious location and it's about time Hank found out if he still has it in him to be a Green Lantern. Can he overcome the trauma of the last few years? Or will Hank fall even deeper into the darkness that's enveloping his life? FIND OUT NEXT MONTH!