Rose was the first to appear in 2020. It began as a soft white light filling the danger room of the underground complex that Wildside called home, but quickly became the form of Rose from Prohibition World, albeit dressed in the clothing of Dark Rose from main line. Vincent appeared next to her and steadied her, since she was dizzy from her first experience with dimensional travel.
Centurion appeared next, unconscious, along with Indigo and Shockwave. Shockwave looked a little uneasy, having just recovered, and Indigo was still crying. Beside them appeared Platinum, Mary, and Cindy.
Vincent walked over to Indigo and Shockwave. "You got him. Good job."
He looked at Platinum and frowned. "Where's Dragon?"
Platinum lowered his head. Cindy spoke up. "He didn't make it, Vincent. Samsara pulled us out."
Vincent cursed softly. There was a moment of silence in the room as all the Wildside members absorbed what this meant. It was broken by Rose's voice.
"Where the hell are we, Vincent?" she yelled, her body shaking just slightly.
The answer came as a soft, hoarse male voice from the glowing man who had just entered the room. He wore a white hooded cloak and his hands and feet, which were exposed, appeared immeasurably old. "You are in the year 2020, in a world quite different from your own," he answered, "and you are here for a greater purpose than you can comprehend."
He waved his hand and a blue bolt shot from it, striking Rose. She screamed, but then calmed down when she realized it wasn't an attack. Quite the opposite, in fact, as she felt her strength increase and her body change, becoming more powerful. In her hands, she now held her metal sticks, and her hair, previously cut in a flapper hairstyle, was now a moderately long head of blond hair.
Samsara fired a similar bolt at Centurion, whose armor lost all of the scars and burns it had gained in combat, and instead took on the appearance of a shining battle suit. His beard shrunk, becoming mere five o'clock shadow, and his demeanor softened somewhat.
Samsara turned to Platinum and sighed. "Raise your head, Alex Ochiro. You have not failed."
Platinum did not look up. "Black Dragon died, Samsara. I have failed."
"It was not easy," Samsara said, "to make it appear so. But remain calm, and all will be explained."
With that, a small hole in space opened, about the size of a marble. It began to grow, until it was a man-sized circle made of swirling light and sparks. It grew in a corner of the empty room they were in, its colors reflecting off of the solid metallic walls.
Samsara closed his eyes. "Now," he said simply, and a large coffin fell through the portal. It was covered with fresh dirt, and appeared to be made of new wood.
The team, lead by Vincent, rushed over to the coffin. Samsara gestured, and the lid flew open. Inside was the fresh body of Black Dragon. He was unconscious, and his breath was very shallow, but he was breathing. Platinum gasped, momentarily stunned. Cindy punched her fist against the coffin and grinned, yelling, "I knew it! I knew he wouldn't let us down! I thought you'd lost the power to animate corpses!"
"I have," Samsara answered, "but Black Dragon was not really a corpse. Part of his soul had been leached into the Golden Dragon of main line by Doctor Destroyer's machine. We had only to wait until those machines were turned off for the soul fragment to be returned to Back World. That just happened. Fortunately, a little mental prodding on my part led Swift and Canare to bury Black Dragon while he was temporarily deceased. And thus, if Azathoth was watching, as I believe he was, and if he is not watching us now, as I believe he isn't, we now have a secret weapon."
Samsara fired another blue bolt, this one at Black Dragon. His black and gold armor was transformed into the golden costume of main line Golden Dragon. Platinum made a disgusted face. "He is not worthy of that costume," he sneered.
"Nevertheless," Samsara said, "the costume is important. The quest you are about to undertake is very symbolic. You are to lead Wildside, the team whom Azathoth would destroy, on a quest for their very existence across the multiverse."
"Are you finally going to tell us what's going on?" Shockwave asked, walking over to Samsara, "I mean, I agreed to get the items back, and I agreed to do what you said in this mission, because I felt bad about losing the items in the first place, but I would really like to know what our mission is."
Samsara nodded his head. "It is time. The items I sent you to recover were the Cube of Time, the Orb of Space, and the Rod of Reality. You rescued the Cube from Psycho, only to have it stolen back during the attack on this compound. The Orb and Rod were both taken by Azathoth's troops before we could get to them. Once he had all three, he embarked on his mad scheme. He used the items to wipe Wildside out of all realities."
Vincent raised his arm tentatively. "Then how did we...?"
Samsara raised his hand in a gesture of patience. "The effect was not instantaneous. All records, memories, and events which involved Wildside had to be rewritten without them. The items could do it, but it took time. I sensed the effect after we lost two dimensions. By the time I had sent you, those three dimensions, plus main line, were the only ones left. Even now, the effect is sweeping through the dimensions. The three dimensions you left are nearly clean, and it will soon start through ours. When it does, it will begin in the past and sweep forward. The past Wildside will be eliminated and then it will sweep into our time and change events so that this Wildside, now without a predecessor, never comes into being."
"Fortunately for us, the three members you rescued are anomalies. If you take them into Azathoth's citadel to recover the items and stop the events, everything can be reversed. Their time lines have been altered, but not irrevocably, because they are missing. In all other time lines, I fear the loss of Wildside may be permanent. But my understanding of dimensional flux is not totally complete. At any rate, if we do rescue the items, I may be able to reverse Azathoth's insanity."
"So," Vincent said, "when do we go?"
Samsara held up his hand again. "When you need to. Relax and go to your rooms. I will attend to our guests."
The team walked out of the room, heading in the elevator to the living quarters of the complex. Each of them, with the exception of Vincent, as exhausted, and had no trouble sleeping. Vincent simply went to his room and meditated.
Samsara walked over to Rose, who was quietly staring around the room. She looked at him as he approached, but said nothing. Finally, she managed to stammer, "I don't understand."
"You are the leader of Wildside," Samsara said, "and your troops, other than those who just left, are Centurion, whom you know as Eddie Ransom, and Dragon. But they are not the men you know. They are very much the same, but not as kind. They will not submit easily to your leadership. You must be strong. Know that your abilities have been increased, and I have faith that you can control them. I'll wake them, and you can talk to them now."
Samsara disappeared, leaving Rose standing in the middle of a large empty metal room with two men groaning and regaining consciousness. Dragon stood up first, shaking his head and then looking down at himself.
"What the...? This is the costume of that weakling from Back World! And it won't come off!" Dragon was furiously tearing at his new clothes, but they would not tear or even move. Rose yelled out, "Dragon!"
Dragon turned at the sound of the voice, anger in his eyes. He saw Dark Rose, wearing her old purple costume, and grinned. "Well, I like these dreams. If this is the afterlife, I must be in heaven."
He sauntered across the room to her and grabbed her around the waist. When he reached down to kiss her, his mouth was suddenly filled with one of her metal sticks.
"You are not my husband," Rose said, pulling the stick away and trying to pull from his grip, "you are not gentle or loving."
Black Dragon smiled. "No, and you are clearly not my Dark Rose. I like this one better." He again tried to kiss her, but this time she punched him in the stomach with her stick and he flew back across the room, releasing her in surprise. She stood in a fighting stance, a stick in either hand.
Centurion was coming around, and stood up in time for Black Dragon to crash into him. He stood up, shaking his head, and then locked eyes with Black Dragon. "You!" he yelled, and fired his blasters point blank. Dragon went flying back and hit another wall. Centurion cackled happily and warmed up his blasters again.
Outside the danger room, Samsara used his powers to listen to what was transpiring. He sighed and thought, "It is like the old days."
Centurion's laugh was cut off abruptly by a metal stick that hit him in the head at high velocity. Dragon turned to look where the stick had come from and found Rose standing next to him. She plunged the other stick into his gut and he doubled over in pain.
Rose calmly walked over and retrieved her other stick from the stunned Centurion. "I don't know what's going on here," she said, "but it seems I've been put in charge. So you two had better get used to that fact."
Black Dragon trembled slightly as he got to his feet, remembering abuses he had suffered from his Dark Rose before her counterpart had defeated her. Centurion gave Rose an evil glare, but he wasn't about to suffer another hit like that. Rose just watched the two of them.
Samsara floated in through the wall and raised his right arm. "Good, I trust you all understand now? Get some rest, we'll begin tomorrow."
With that, he unleashed magical energy which knocked Centurion and Black Dragon unconscious. Rose went into a defensive stance, but he merely turned and walked back out. The door slid open and Rose found herself looking into a small locker room. Inside were a nice set of clothes like the ones she had back home, a black skirt and a white blouse. She quickly changed and then walked out to examine more of the base.
She was met at the door of the locker room by a man standing about twelve feet tall and wearing partial armor. He had long dark hair and looked like he was in his mid-twenties. He smiled down at her. "I'm Samsara's son John. He told me to show you to your room, or anywhere else you want to go."
Rose just nodded and followed the large man. She was amazed by all that she saw around her. They passed an immense weight room with all kinds of gleaming metal devices, and a medical room with even more devices, and then they got into an elevator and rode it down.
She stepped out into a corridor which was lined with about ten metal doors. John gestured to one on the far end that was open. She smiled weakly and walked down to it, looking in. Inside there was a bed, a simple dresser, and four blank white walls. She was too tired to care, she simply walked in and fell on the bed. She didn't even notice the door close on its own.
Rose was the last one to awake in the morning. She woke up and found fresh clothes laid out for her on the dresser. These clothes were different than she was used to, and fit comfortably over the armor Vincent had given her. They were made of leather, a full body suit and a trench coat. As she was pulling the coat on, there was a beeping at the door. She turned to see it slide open.
A man who appeared to be in his late forties walked in. He was favoring his left leg, and walking with a cane, but he had a familiar swagger. And when he smiled, Rose knew him.
"Dave! You look so different."
"Rose, you haven't changed a bit. Of course, you're not the Rose I know, and I'm not the Dave you know, but I wanted to see you. I didn't realize until right now how hard it would be."
Rose was puzzled. "Hard? Dave, I don't..."
He held up a hand and grinned. "Nothing. Listen, let me take you down to breakfast, okay?"
Rose took his offered arm and let him lead her down the hall to the elevator. They went up one level and walked down another hallway until they reached the kitchen. It was packed.
Platinum was sitting with a beautiful oriental girl in her mid-twenties who was dressed in a white costume much like his own. Shockwave was sitting next to her and chatting, a fact which seemed to annoy Platinum. Mary was chewing on a piece of bacon much like a dog would, gnawing at it and holding it close to her face with both hands. Indigo stood with Vincent and Cindy by the refrigerator, drinking orange juice from the carton.
A voice with a strange accent, almost East Indian, piped through the speakers. "Good morning, Dave Hunter, Rose. Would you like some breakfast?"
"Thanks, Jeeves," Dave said, moving to an unoccupied counter, "set us up with two of the works: bagels, fruit, bacon, and Coke Classic."
Rose turned when she heard a whirring sound and watched as food was lifted by energy beams onto the flat metal surface which she assumed was an oven. On one part of the surface, the bacon crackled, and on the other, the bagels became brown and toasted. Beams from the other side of the room lifted two apples and two cans of Coca-Cola Classic and put them on the counter next to Dave. A plate with the bagels and bacon soon appeared next to them. Rose stared, and then began to eat.
As they were finishing their meals, they heard a soft beeping sound and Jeeves' mechanical voice saying "Attention, Cyberfreaks are defacing the park again. Do you want to deal with them?"
Platinum rose from the table and cracked his knuckles. Vincent nodded, and everyone else rose as well, walking towards the elevator. Rose tagged along, leaving Dave behind and asking Indigo, who was at the back, "What are Cyberfreaks?"
"Cyborg gang-bangers," Indigo answered, "and last week they tried to kill some poor guy who was up in the park at night. What they didn't know, and still don't, is that our base is right underneath that park."
When they were all in the elevator, Vincent pressed the Ground Level button and they accelerated quickly, stopping abruptly after a few seconds.The top of the elevator pulled back, letting the early morning sunlight in. Above them there was a grove of trees. They heard a woman scream and the sound of a chain saw being activated.
Platinum was first out, with Vincent close behind. Each had their respective weapons ready, and they leaped from the concealing trees to see two Cyberfreaks, each dressed in synthetic black leather and sporting metallic trim, menacing a fifty-year old woman and her husband, who was on the ground clutching his bloody arm.
The Cyberfreak nearest them, a bald young man with a whirring mini-chainsaw instead of a left hand, was cackling. His friend, a short man with two green glowing eyes, was using an implanted paint-sprayer in his left finger to spray slogans all over the sidewalks and trees around them. Both of them looked up as Platinum and Vincent charged.
Platinum reached them first, knocking the bald one's hand away from the couple. Vincent followed up with a sword slash, cutting clean through the other's finger and revealing the metal wiring beneath. The spray dissipated, leaving a purple blob on the Cyberfreak's hand. He growled and produced a blade from beneath his jacket.
Meanwhile, the other one took a swing at Platinum, missing by a mile. Platinum let his staff vanish and focused his ki inward, letting the Dragon aura form around him.
"Leave. Now. Or I'll do this to you." With that, he kicked out, striking a nearby tree and cracking a branch clean off. The Cyberfreak turned and ran, the sound of his chain saw fading as he ran away from them. Vincent dealt with his opponent in a less subtle manner, slapping him into unconsciousness with his blade.
Vincent then turned to the couple, gathering their wits and staring at them. He bowed deeply and said, "Call the police for this loser. Wildside was happy to assist."
Platinum took his cue and vanished, using his power to turn invisible. Vincent leaped away and circled back to their concealed entry point into the base. The couple simply looked at each other and dialed the police on their wrist-phones.
The rest of the team clapped for them as they stepped back into the base. Platinum reappeared in between Shockwave and the young oriental woman.
"Cheyenne, did you see? That is how to deal with people for whom our skills are wasted. Do not use your martial abilities, simply your force of personality."
Cheyenne nodded halfheartedly and rolled her eyes at Shockwave, taking care that Platinum didn't see. Shockwave suppressed a laugh.
Samsara appeared in the midst of them, gathered at the entry to the elevator.
"I trust you are warmed up? Good. Because it's time to begin."
Vincent looked at the team. "Okay, let's get to the Vagabond."
Samsara raised his hand and motioned them to stop. "For this mission, Vincent, Rose is in command of the team. You will all take your cues from her."
Vincent nodded and looked over at Rose, who simply coughed and said, "Let's go."
The team got to the hangar and found Dave warming up the Vagabond's engines. Cindy walked past him, gave him a quick hug, and settled into the cockpit. "Take care of my plane," Dave yelled in.
"I'll take good care of my plane, Dad," she yelled back.
The team assembled in the hold of the Vagabond and Samsara briefed them as Cindy did the final checks on the systems.
"Azathoth's citadel is in the wastes of Las Vegas. It is the only building standing in that area. You'll have to be very careful, because the dimensional nexus is in that area. You may run into a greater number of demons and more powerful extra dimensional threats. Also, the Vagabond's cloak will protect you from his mechanical sensors, but not his magical ones. Once you get in fairly close, you may be forced to proceed on foot. I'll remain in touch with you. Good luck."
Samsara faded out and Cindy looked back. "So, we ready to lift off, boss?" She was looking directly at Vincent.
Rose stepped in front of her and said, "Yes, lift off."
Cindy turned her eyes back to the front and lifted off without a word. After they were airborne for a minute or so, Rose asked, "Have I done something wrong?"
Cindy didn't answer, she just shook her head quickly. Rose tapped her on the shoulder.
"Look," Cindy said, whirling around in her chair, "you're my mom in this dimension. And you abandoned me. Forgive me if I don't feel all that charitable towards you."
"I'm not your mom," Rose countered, "and I'm sure your mom had her reasons for what she did. But I don't want to be blamed for what she did. I'm leading this mission, and I want to feel like I can count on you."
"The way dad could count on you?" Cindy yelled, "I saw what happened to him when you left. I've never seen him that down, that unsure of himself! He was a different person! He just looked like he would rather have died with you!"
Rose answered her calmly. "Get this straight. I am not your mom. I'm not asking for your love. I'm asking for your trust. I need that if I'm going to be the leader of this mission. I didn't ask for this, but I'm trying to make the best of it. You have a chance to get to know me, and maybe to find out what your mom was like. Maybe you should make the best of that."
Before Cindy could answer, Rose went back to the passenger section of the plane and sat down. Dragon slid his chair on its magnetic cushion next to Rose and said, "See? That's what kids do! You try to discipline them, and they never listen!"
Rose glared at Dragon and he slid back. "Shut up," she said.
Centurion started laughing until Vincent smacked him in the face and told him to shut up too.
The rest of the flight was silent, everyone keeping their thoughts to themselves. The first time anyone spoke is when Cindy said, "Incoming. Brace yourselves."
The team felt the meson cannon fire, its vibrations rocking the ship, and they heard an explosion outside. Then the ship tilted wildly to the left, rolling twice before coming to level flight upside-down. Two loud thumps sounded from the right side of the ship.
"Damn!" Cindy cursed, "they've latched on!"
"What?" Rose yelled, "What's latched on?"
"Vincent," Cindy yelled, "we've got demons on the hull!"
"Not something you hear everyday," Rose muttered.
"It is here," Vincent told her, and he unlocked his seat belts and did a flip off of his chair, landing on the ceiling below him. Platinum followed suit. The two of them walked to the door and were met by Shockwave, who was floating at the entrance.
"Better that those who can fly go out," he said. Dragon and Centurion flew up next to him. Dragon opened the door and the three of them were sucked out. Vincent managed to pull the door shut before the pressure was completely depleted.
Outside, Shockwave grabbed hold of the hull. Centurion landed on the wing with magnetized boots and Dragon plunged a fist into the side of the ship to use as a handhold. On the other side of the ship, they could barely make out the tips of red leathery wings.
Behind them, there was a flock of what looked like about fifteen large birds of red, green, and black colors. Even at this distance, they knew that what they were was not actually birds. Dragon called out to Shockwave, "What are they?"
"Demons of some kind, we get a lot of them here," he answered.
There was a loud grinding sound from the other side of the plane, and a huge chunk of the wing dropped into the clouds below. The plane wobbled dangerously and slowed down, smoke pouring from the damaged wing.
Centurion walked up the wing and onto the top of the ship. He looked down on the other side and saw two red humanoid beings, about seven feet tall with folded bat wings, tearing huge chunks out of the wings with their clawed hands. One of them turned his multifaceted eyes on him and muttered something unintelligible. Its voice sounded like sandpaper rubbing across an open wound.
Centurion fired his wrist blasters, shearing the wing off of one of the creatures. It howled in pain and flung itself at him, but as soon as it lost its grip on the wing, it went flying back behind them as the plane's speed caught up with it. Centurion happily watched it spiral out of control, plunging down into the clouds.
Dragon's head appeared over the side, and he was gouging handholds and climbing over to where the demon stood. Centurion fired again, but this demon was smarter. Instead of lunging for him, it leaped at the plane, catching hold of the side. Centurion's full power blast struck the wing, breaking off half of it. The plane lurched and rolled back to right side up. Dragon hung on for dear life, trying to swing his legs up onto what had, up to a second ago, been where he was standing. Shockwave didn't have the strength to resist and he dropped behind the plane and quickly disappeared in the distance.
Inside, Cindy cursed as sparks flew out of her control panel. "We've lost the wing! I'm going to have to land her!"
She heard two loud thumps as Platinum and Vincent fell to the floor from where they had been.
"Just as well, Vincent remarked, watching Shockwave fly off the wing. He caught himself wishing that Dragon had been thrown off too, then remembered that they needed him for the mission, no matter how evil he was.
Outside, Centurion leaned over and fired another shot at the demon, missing cleanly. He was now close enough for the demon to retaliate, however, and it swung with its claws, tearing into the exposed lower half of his face. Centurion screamed as blood flowed from his jaw. Dragon began clawing his way back to the other side.
The plane was wobbling, but descending fairly smoothly. Rose was amazed by Cindy's skill with the plane. She had a little flight training from her husband, but Cindy was landing a high-tech fighter with only one wing, and making it a reasonably comfortable ride.
"When we land," Vincent said, walking over to Rose, "that demon horde is going to be on us quick. Do you want advice on how to handle it?"
"Give me a rundown of what your people can do," Rose said, "and mine, for that matter."
Vincent began to tell her everyone's name and powers, stopping only briefly when he saw the other demon impact on the windshield and then get picked off by a hand in a black glove, only to hear more clanging on the sides as Dragon brained it to make sure it was dead. He had finished the run down when Cindy yelled, "We're coming in!"
The plane hit solidly, but on its landing gear. The gravity cushions on the bottom of the plane helped slow it, and it skidded to a stop in the middle of the desert where they had landed. Cindy opened the hatch and the team filed out.
Blasters powered up, weapons appeared from thin air, and force fields hummed to life as the Wildsides of two eras and four different dimensions prepared to meet the demons. When they got within sight range, Vincent, Centurion, and Shockwave opened up with their blasts. They dropped four of the demons before the rest of them landed, swinging in amongst the group.
The battle was brutal and quick, with neither side holding back. Platinum struck one of the demons with his staff and got a claw across his chest in return. Mary exchanged claw swipes with two of them, and Cindy desperately fired ego blasts to hold off the three that advanced on her until Rose intervened with her sticks to make it a more even fight. Indigo knocked two of their heads together before another slashed her from behind, making her cry out in pain. It was smashed in turn by Dragon, who was holding off two more of the demons. The blasters finished off the one still out of range and turned to help the rest of the group.
Before long, Wildside had defeated their opponents. Unconscious and dead demons lay strewn about the desert, oozing green, yellow, or black blood and in some cases howling with unholy volume as their magical bodies mended themselves with no regard for pain. Indigo and Shockwave did quick patch jobs on everyone's minor wounds while Vincent and Platinum ensured that no more of the demons would get up to follow them. Black Dragon scoffed at them.
"Weaklings. Kill them, don't knock them unconscious. They might follow us."
Neither of them answered the man, simply going about their business of non-lethal subdual with their energy blasts. After another minute or two, Rose tugged on her bandaged wrist and yelled, "All right! Cindy, can you fix the plane?"
Cindy looked at the wing and kicked the plane in frustration. "Not in the time we've got. We need special materials for this plane."
The plane began to shimmer. Shockwave yelled into thin air, "Oh, come on! You're stranding us here! Damn it!" He shook his fist at the thin air that had been the Vagabond.
"Samsara says we walk," Vincent said grimly. Rose nodded in agreement and looked over her team. Everyone seemed basically all right, and fortunately no one had any leg injuries. Vincent tapped her on the shoulder and whispered to her for a few seconds, and when he was done, she spoke up.
"Dragon, you will carry Vincent, Platinum, and Indigo. Shockwave, you'll carry Mary, and Centurion, you'll carry me and Cindy. She'll telekinetically assist."
Everyone shrugged. It sounded better than walking. Within minutes, the team was cruising over the surface of the desert at about 70 miles per hour.
Black Dragon grinned and said to Platinum, "I could drop you, boy. You'd never survive the fall."
Vincent pressed his sword into Dragon's chest slightly. "Yes he would, and you wouldn't survive dropping him. That's why you're carrying the three of us, instead of anyone else."
Black Dragon scowled, but he shut up and kept flying. A similar situation played out with Rose and Centurion.
After about two hours of travel, Centurion said, "I scan something in the distance. Looks like a black skyscraper."
"Set us down," Rose said, and then motioned Dragon and Shockwave to land as well. They did, and everyone looked in the direction ahead. Most of them saw nothing but a black dot in the distance.
Rose looked over at Vincent, who walked over and whispered to her again. She nodded, argued briefly, and then nodded again. "Shockwave, take Indigo and recon the place at high speed, comms open, right, Vincent? If you run into trouble, get back to us if possible, and call for help if you have to."
Indigo walked over and put her arm around Shockwave, who lifted the two of them off and flew away, leaving a shimmering trail behind him. They watched his form grow smaller until it disappeared. Rose called out to Centurion, "Monitor them on your long-range sensors and tell me everything that's happening."
"They're approaching the skyscraper fast. Now they're circling it. Now they're gone."
"What!" Platinum yelled, along with Vincent. "They're gone, just like that?"
"No, wait, here they come," Centurion said with a giggle.
What looked like a fireball with a blue center was hurling at the team. Vincent snapped at Dragon, "Catch them and don't hurt them!"
Dragon flipped Vincent off, but relented when Rose grabbed the offending finger and bent it in a most painful way. He yelped and lifted off, getting ahead of the incoming fireball.
As it got closer, it was clear that Shockwave was the center, being propelled by a huge red energy beam from the black dot in the distance. Indigo wasn't with him. Dragon grabbed hold of Shockwave as he went by and was pulled along for about ninety feet before he slowed them both down and yanked Shockwave free of the energy beam, which ceased.
Over the comms, they heard, "Shockwave? Can you guys see him? He just got blasted! I'm okay, I'm on the ground."
There was a blast of painful static and the background noise from Indigo's comm disappeared, leaving painful silence. Rose started running towards the black dot, and was quickly followed by Vincent, Platinum, and Mary. Centurion and Dragon watched them run and looked down at Shockwave, who was shaking his head and trying to stop the blood coming from his nose with a torn part of his jacket.
"Dragon! Centurion! Follow us or you'll answer to me!" Rose yelled, and the two reluctantly flew after the rest of the team. After taking a second to catch his breath, Shockwave did the same. He quickly pulled up with the others, leaving Centurion and Dragon in the rear.
"Some kind of force beam hit me. I managed to let go of Indigo before it hurled me back here."
Shockwave scooped up Rose in his arms and flew her with him to the black skyscraper ahead of everyone else. When they got there, they saw Indigo lying on the ground, her breathing shallow. Her chest and neck had severe burns on them. Rose pointed to the sky above the skyscraper. "Look!"
They looked up at the towering mass of steel and glass, shaped like a sword with no hilt pointing to the sky, and saw the clouds above darkening. They formed a circle around the point of the citadel and then released a burst of black lightning.
Shockwave was quick, and he grabbed Rose and dove out of the way of the blast, but when it struck the ground, it exploded, and they felt the pure evil of the blast as a physical punch. Luckily, Shockwave's force field protected Rose from the brunt of it, and they were far enough away that they didn't take as much damage as the target.
The target, Indigo, was now not breathing, and her entire chest was blackened. Shockwave ran over and began giving her emergency CPR, dropping Rose off where he had been floating. Rose looked and saw the rest of Wildside, borne by Black Dragon and Centurion, approaching quickly. Above, the storm clouds gave an ominous rumble.
Rose scanned the tower for any signs of entry, but the entire citadel seemed to be a fusion of black metal and glass, with no obvious entry way. Desperately, she struck the glass, but her stick simply bounced off harmlessly. Shockwave cried out happily, "I've got a pulse! She's stable!"
As if on cue, the lightning struck down again, but this time Shockwave stood his ground, lying on top of Indigo. Rose felt the blast from her point, but she was fairly well removed from it and recovered in a second. She looked back and saw Shockwave lying unconscious on top of Indigo. Both of them were breathing steadily.
Centurion arrived first, dropping off Mary and Platinum. Overhead, the clouds rumbled again, and Rose looked up, worried. "We have to get inside, but the building is too tough!" Rose yelled above the sounds of the thunder.
Vincent and Black Dragon arrived, and Vincent yelled, "We have to hit it as a team, Rose! That's what will make it happen!"
Rose nodded and threw her stick at a pane of black glass. At that moment, Vincent and Platinum struck with their weapons, Mary slashed with her claws, and Centurion fired his blasts. The window shattered inward, revealing an inky blackness that they couldn't see through. It was unclear whether they had actually broken the window or not.
When the lightning struck down again, Dragon decided to chance it. He dove through the seemingly unbroken pane of black and disappeared into the interior. Not having much to lose, Rose followed suit, along with Mary, while Platinum and Vincent each grabbed one of their unconscious comrades and dragged them inside the building.
Once inside, the blackness was less-encompassing. It was still dark, and no light shone in, but they could see that there was indeed a spot where the black window was not whole. A jagged rip in the glass showed as a sparkle of gray against the black interior of the building.
The area they were in was impossibly larger than the citadel was from the outside. On the walls were the heads of various creatures, ranging from dinosaurs to house cats. The heads weren't mounted on wood, but rather on necks that continued to bleed. The floor was polished obsidian, as was the ceiling, and again there seemed no way up or down from the one large room.
Vincent's sword began to glow brightly, casting a circle of light two feet in diameter around him. It illuminated the room better, but gave an eerie cast to the heads mounted on the wall. Rose noted that one of them was a human head.
"Where are we?" she asked, and her voice sounded distant and hollow to her, "how do we get deeper inside?"
Vincent looked at her and answered in total gibberish. The heads on the wall began to laugh. Dragon collapsed, screaming and holding his head, and Centurion melted into a puddle of water. Platinum grew, until his form passed beyond the ceiling and only his massive shoes were visible. His sister transformed into a small lizard and began to sun herself on a purple rock.
"What's going on?" Rose yelled, and it didn't sound like her voice. The animals on the wall began to laugh louder and louder, until the sound was so loud and conflicting that Rose feared she would go mad.
The other members of the team were suffering similarly vivid hallucinations, writhing in agony as their flesh melted or crying out in supreme ecstasy as they felt pleasure so incredible that their hearts burst. Cindy felt a pounding headache as Rose began to chant, "Not my child, not my child, Dave wants you dead" and Dave Hunter appeared and began clawing his own eyeballs out, blaming Cindy.
She screamed and yelled, "Stop!"
And everything did. The team was standing in the center of a modestly decorated lobby, with blank gray-green walls, a rotted mahogany desk, and rickety wooden stairs leading up through a hole in the white ceiling above. There was an elevator, but it's doors were on the floor and the car was collapsed inside the shaft, with cable piled on top. The building was no bigger inside than it had been outside, and they could see dim light from the broken window they had entered through. Indigo and Shockwave still laid unconscious on the floor.
"How did you do that?" Rose asked Cindy.
"I don't know," Cindy answered, "my mental powers have never been that powerful."
"Let's go," Platinum said, walking over to the staircase. Mary followed him, and Rose nodded for the rest of the team to go. She gave a glance at their unconscious team mates and looked at Cindy. "Can you stay with them and protect them?"
Cindy nodded, and Rose turned to the stairs and walked up, sparing a last glance at the woman who could have been her daughter.
They began climbing the creaky stairs, with Platinum in the lead and Vincent following up behind.
The stairway was enclosed, with an occasional stop every ten feet or so. Usually the stops had flaking paint on the wall that indicated what floor this had once been. Wooden dummies of women and men in Egyptian clothing and signs that read, "Blackjack tables" with an arrow pointing to the interspersed doors, indicated that this was once a casino.
When they reached the fifth floor, Platinum stopped. Mary sniffed the air and locked eyes with him. He nodded and whispered to Rose, "Mary smells one of Azathoth's minions on this level."
Rose stepped up ahead of them and kicked in the door. She entered the room with her sticks out, and the rest of the team quickly followed them. They were on what appeared to be a level with rooms. It was a long hallway, with closed doors stretching out on both sides as far as they could see. The team advanced, two-by-two, down the hall, with Mary leading Rose along using her enhanced smell. When she reached the door marked "5 3" she hissed briefly. Rose and Mary dove through the door and saw a dirty hotel room. The double bed had been overturned, and the walls were sprayed with blood. In the corner there was a matted wad of stuffing from the shredded mattress.
Psycho was sitting in the corner chewing on a rat. When the two of them entered, he stood up, but Rose and Mary both struck him, knocking him back down. He slashed back, clawing Mary's side, but Platinum, Vincent, and Centurion fired, knocking him down and into the wall. Dragon followed up by smashing him into the wall with his fist. Psycho went limp, dropping the half-eaten rat.
His chest rose and fell quickly, as if he were hyperventilating. His leg twitched quickly.
Vincent spotted a gleaming black object in the stuffing around Psycho. He reached for it and proudly produced the black cube.
"We got it," he said, and the cube disappeared from his hands in a flash of white light, "and now Samsara's got it."
Dragon stared in disbelief. "Why didn't he do that before?"
"Because," answered a hollow voice from Psycho's unconscious body, "contact with me had tainted it. He needed a new link to reacquire it. But don't get too cocky, carbon units. The cuckoo clucks not once, but thrice, and I'll be damned if I'll eat your scrambled eggs!"
The voice changed slightly three times during the sentence, and everyone gave an involuntary shiver. "What was that?" Rose asked, and Vincent said, "I think it was Azathoth."
After a quick search of the room and tying up Psycho with all the available metal from the fixtures, the team headed up the staircase once again.
They had reached the tenth floor when the stairs beneath them creaked louder than ever. Vincent, who was following up the rear, mumbled something and then pushed off, leaping for the stairs above. As he caught hold, the staircase beneath him collapsed, sending a shockwave down and collapsing all ten flights beneath them. The stairs, now attached only by their own supports to the walls, began to creak and shift.
"Dragon, punch through this wall!" Rose yelled, and Dragon did. There was a large hole, but not big enough, and she ordered him to do it again. The stairway tilted, throwing Mary off balance, but Vincent caught her before she could plunge to her death. Platinum looked visibly relieved and mouthed "Thank you" to Vincent.
Dragon continued pounding on the wall, shaking the stairs loose even faster. Mary dug into the nearest wall with her claws and held onto Vincent as the stairs they had been standing on crumbled away. Centurion took to the air, and Platinum jumped and grabbed onto his legs as his stairs went out from underneath him. Rose grabbed onto Dragon as the collapsing stairs on their levels fully disappeared into the chasm below. The hole in the wall was now the size of two large men. Dragon set Rose inside and yanked Platinum and Centurion in for a tight fit. He kept pounding away at the sides. He missed his target and his fist came right for Rose's skull, but she deflected it and gave him a warning glare. He grinned innocently.
Above them, bits of timber from the stairs on higher levels began to fall. A board struck Dragon in the head, making him growl in frustration. When he had opened the wall up a little more, Mary jumped with Vincent into the hole, cutting off Dragon's attempt to pull in himself. He started to knock on the other side of the wall when the stairs above collapsed, crashing down on him.
The team watched from their vantage point as their view was obscured by tons of falling wood, concrete, and metal. The rushing sound of the debris as it slid down the shaft slowed and slowed until it stopped, leaving only silence. They were trapped behind a wall of debris. Then they heard a grinding sound, and the debris began to lift. Bits of it shifted and fell, but eventually it all lifted above them and they saw Black Dragon holding it up, straining to fly upward.
"Help me," he said, "I can't hold on to it much longer."
"I'll probably hate myself for this," Rose said, but she began smashing out the walls around her. Vincent and Platinum joined in, and soon they had enough of a hole for them to climb into. Dragon rushed into the now-vacated space in the wall as the rest of the debris went crumbling by.
After a minute or so, they saw the empty shaft again, but now there were no stairs to climb. Rose leaned her head out and looked up. She was relieved to see the top, but she estimated that they were about sixty floors from it.
"Oh boy," she breathed, "it's gonna be a long walk."
Dragon pushed by Rose to get to the hole, and she slapped him as he got a little too familiar.
"Sorry," he said, "I was just trying to get by."
"It'll be harder with two broken arms," she answered. He laughed and floated out into the shaft. She jumped out and grabbed on, looking back at Vincent.
"We'll scout ahead, you follow with Centurion. Platinum, you stay here with Mary until I send someone down to get you. Got it?"
Both men nodded and Dragon began floating upwards. When they got to the point that the four others were about twenty stories beneath them, Rose made the mistake of looking down and gasped quietly. Dragon reached his arm around and pinched her behind.
She slapped him, and his eyes turned cold. "I'll drop you," he said in a throaty voice.
"Try it and I'll kill you," she said, in an equally serious tone. She was surprised to see Dragon's expression soften and a look of fear cross his face.
He looked away before she could get a better look, but she could swear that he really thought she would kill him. He seemed terrified of her.
The rest of the trip up was uneventful. They reached another door at the top, but this one was solid metal instead of wood, and it had a sophisticated electronic lock on the outside. Dragon cracked the knuckles on his free hand and shifted Rose so that she was sitting in the crook of his left arm.
"Looks easy," he said, and he reached out his right hand and began to punch in buttons. Rose listened to the sounds of his fingers tapping the keys in rapid succession, and then she heard and saw Dragon get shocked. His right hand was severely burned, almost down to the bone, and he screamed, letting his left arm fall open. Rose slipped out and began to fall down the shaft.
The last thing she saw was a grinning demonic mouth with sharp teeth in place of the electronic keypad. Its tongue was made of fire, and its eyes glowed with the same intensity. Rose watched the tiny face disappear as her fall accelerated.
She was in free-fall, heading towards about two floors worth of rubble at the bottom of the seventy story drop. She had to make a conscious effort not to scream, but to think instead of some way to stop her fall.
As ten more stories rushed by, she realized that there was nothing she could do. All she could hope for was that Centurion would catch her. Another twenty stories passed, and she looked desperately downward for the flash of his boot jets in the shaft. She saw nothing but the piles of rubble getting closer.
Thirty stories passed and she saw the hole where the team was hiding. Platinum, Vincent, and Mary stared in horror as they saw her go by. Centurion began to laugh. Rose couldn't help herself. She started to cry, thinking of all the things she would miss in life. She thought of Dragon, and how he would never know how his wife had died.
She felt strong arms around her waist and looked up to see Vincent falling with her, lifting her above his head and throwing as hard as he could at the wall. She recovered in time to land safely in the hole which the team had dug, and she ran out to the edge and looked down in time to see Vincent crash into the rubble. There was an enormous crack, and the hole he made was filled with rubble. She watched, tears still running down her face, waiting for the rubble to shift, but it didn't.
Then she began to scream. Platinum took her hand and held it tight until she stopped. Mary seemed confused, unsure what had happened. She sniffed the air nervously, her eyes darting left and right.
When Rose's voice had given out, she just sobbed quietly, staring down at the rubble. Black Dragon floated down next to the hole, staring at his blackened hand. Centurion stood and walked over to the edge and looked down.
"That's gotta hurt," he said, smirking.
Platinum spun on his left foot and slammed his right foot into where Centurion's midsection was. A force field sprung up between the two of them, stopping the blow cold and leaving Platinum standing in that stance. He put his foot down as a ghostly form of Samsara appeared in the shaft.
"Platinum, calm yourself. Vincent will recover, as always. And the important members of your team are still active. Get on with your mission. I will disable the locks upstairs."
Samsara faded and Dragon's blackened hand healed, regaining muscles, skin, and then the golden gauntlet which covered it. Rose wiped her eyes and ordered Dragon to carry her and Mary. She bit her lip as she ordered Centurion to carry Platinum.
The team floated upward, watching for traps on the walls, but nothing sprung. It was extremely quiet, the only noise being the sounds of Mary's sniffling and the quiet whine of Centurion's boot jets. When they reached the top, Rose saw that the demonic lock was now simply a burnt-out keypad, and the solid metal door just another piece of rotted oak. She kicked the door in with all her strength.
The team was standing in a large room that looked like something out of a Roman Palace. It was lush, decorated with ancient paintings and beautiful fabrics, and its size defied the imagination. On every wall, there was also a testament to technology, a blaster or a computer terminal or something else. One wall was a huge bank of monitors, about twelve in all. They were black, showing nothing. Others scattered about showed things ranging from violent action movies to Smurf cartoons. In another corner, there were screams as Care Bears tortured caricatures of Spanish Inquisitors. In the center of it all there was a large metal podium bearing a hideous statue of a blend of man, machine, and something else. The plaque below read, "Azathoth."
With a thunderclap, the room was suddenly filled. Thirty demons crowded against the walls. Sinner stood by a column, picking at her nails. A large man stood on another side, cracking his knuckles. There seemed to be about seven paranormals in all.
A voice filled the chambers. "You've already failed, Wildside. While you were storming my Citadel, I've eliminated Wildside in all the dimensions except for main line. And they too will fall, after I've destroyed you. Look around you."
The monitors flashed to life, all of them now showing worlds upon worlds. Black Dragon glimpsed his world, where PRIMUS troops were using the Vagabond to round up dissidents. Rose saw Antarctica in her world erupt in a burst of light and flame. Centurion looked and saw the Prince staring at the blackened remains of the Slingshot. He stepped on a flaming piece of rubble and began barking orders to his soldiers, who laid down their weapons and began cleaning the rubble from the island.
Other worlds showed other things, like the being called Dire Rose destroying the Garden as her powers ran out of control, enhanced by an unseen force. In a world ruled by the United Nations, the International Super Teams tried to fight the virus that had systematically erased all extradimensional knowledge from their computers. In worlds upon worlds, Wildside was no more.
Azathoth's followers smiled, looking at the five remaining members of the team. His smile faded as Samsara came into view.
"Who invited you?" he screamed at Samsara, "I clearly stated that this was an invitation only party! You are another puny fleshling, a weakling who cannot handle his god powers, a silly man with snakes in his pants! I'll kill you, twist your bones, rend your flesh, make you a lovely potted plant!"
Samsara spoke quietly. "Ah, Lord of Insanity. But not Lord of Order. Not Lord of Planning. Not Lord of Foresight. You have great power, but no ability to use it. You are an abomination, a freak. I am three made one, as destiny intended. And thus will I ever triumph over you."
The views on some of the screens changed. A renewed Vincent lead a surprise attack on the Prince and his armies. The Prince was shocked to see them, and could not react fast enough to prevent Vincent from running him through with his sword. The rest of the team quickly followed up, with Kim finishing him off with the Quantum rifle, leaving only obsidian bones on the beach. They began the task of mopping up the soldiers.
In Rose's world, the view cut to a high-tech plane bearing the familiar emblem of Wildside on the wings. As the camera zoomed in, they could all see the Dragon was at the controls, with Eddie flying co-pilot. The plane was coming into a landing in Northern Canada.
"You've failed," Samsara said, "you went right for the obvious plan. I knew that removing people from the time stream was a stop-gap measure. But you never thought four-dimensionally, Lord of Insanity. Did you honestly believe that a clone of Alec Xavier could turn out so different as to be Vincent Xavier? I sent his counterpart of that time line back so that he could rescue Wildside from your manipulations when it came time. I changed his memories until the moment he needed them. And once I had snatched Rose, your attention was diverted from Prohibition World. It was easy to guide Dragon and Eddie to the Vagabond that you so carelessly left there, I imagine as some kind of ironic twist. Now they have the most powerful plane in their world, and you'll find it very hard to destroy them. And, finally, you've overplayed your hand. Greater beings than you and I control the time stream. Your gambit is over."
The monitor screens, one by one, began to reveal the presence of Wildside once more, as the time stream righted itself. Azathoth howled in frustration and anger.
"You think I'm beaten?" the voice boomed, "Not so, Samsara! I may not have as much foresight as you, but I have more raw power! I'll have my revenge! I'll scatter your team...across the dimensions!"
Before even Samsara could react, Platinum and Mary flashed out of existence. In the elevator shaft, buried in the rubble, Vincent disappeared, and in the room where Cindy stood guard over her two unconscious team mates, there were three more flashes of light and they were gone. Samsara returned Rose, Dragon, and Centurion to their proper time frames with a wave of his hand and faded.
He reappeared in the underground compound of Wildside and looked at Dave, who was sitting at the table. "I've lost them," he said.