Legionnaire's heads-up display indicated that his cloaking field was working fine. When he had enough power directed into it, it blocked the armor even from the senses of the Ruler's Overseers, the most powerful sensory devices on the planet. Thus, the Overseer assigned to Sector Miami Nineteen didn't see two wanted metahumans entering a restricted area that had been razed a long time ago. It didn't see a passage open to the underground levels from which the rebellion against the Ruler had been taking place. And it didn't realize what was going on right under it's robotic nose.
Enigma extricated herself from Legionnaire's affectionate grip, giving him a sharp jab to the ribs to remind him of just exactly what her feelings were towards him. He was young, and he sometimes forgot.
Enigma strode purposefully down the dimly-lit corridor, past framed news clippings of the seventies and eighties, memorials of the heroes and villains who existed before the Mutant Purge. When she reached a thick oak door at the end of the hallway, she rapped twice with her right hand.
"Come in," came a garbled voice, sounding like a mixture of a fading tape recorder and a man bleeding to death. The man who issued the command did not look much better than he sounded.
Legionnaire remained in the hallway, but Enigma stood firm. The man was standing, gazing around himself in wonder. He stood about seven feet tall, and at first glance seemed to be a robot who had flesh grafted randomly onto his body as some kind of cruel joke. He gave a half smile, revealing metallic teeth through thin flesh cheeks, and his red LED eyes blinked twice as he focused on Enigma and the chip in her left hand.
"Hello, Alex," she said. "How are you doing?"
Alex's hand waved back and forth in a "so-so" motion, whirring as it did so, and then he stuck it quickly out, palm up. Enigma didn't flinch, although anyone else might have thought he was attacking.
"Sorry," he said. "I still don't have perfect control."
Enigma placed the chip in his metallic hand and watched Alex's eyes dim and then go dark. He was inside himself now, using the computer parts of his mind to read the chip's base code. His eyes flared open, reflecting a flash of red onto Enigma's armored faceplate.
"This is a plan for the next body switch of the Ruler. His old body is degrading, and he needs a new clone. It happens in five days."
Enigma gently reached out and grasped Alex's hand. "We'll get him this time, Alex. We'll make him pay for what he did to you."
Alex nodded. "Come on, let's go tell my father."
* * * * *
Indigo woke up spitting out a mouthful of dirt. It didn't taste like normal dirt, it was sweeter, almost like sugar. Still only half-conscious, she gazed around herself. The smell of smoke was thick in the air.
Her vision blurred, but she could make out people running and screaming amidst the flames. A dark shape, about twelve feet tall and solidly built, was roaring and tearing through the wooden and straw huts that surrounded her. Everywhere there was fire and destruction. A cadre of soldiers, dressed in chain armor and carrying swords, ran up to the monster and tried to attack it. Their attempts met with failure, as its skin turned their blades aside and its hideous strength crushed the life from them one by one.
Indigo stood, wobbling on her wounded legs. She stumbled towards the creature, cocking her fist. With all her might, she swung a roundhouse punch, but she telegraphed it so badly that the beast just stepped out of the way. Then his eyes glowed red, he bared yellow fangs from beneath his wide-brimmed black hat, and he punched her in the face. The last sensation she had before losing consciousness was flying through the side of a burning barn.
It had been night when she first awoke, but the rays of a noon day sun were hitting her face when she stirred again. She was lying in hay and it shuffled as she shifted her weight up to look around. Everything and everyone was dead. The village she had regained consciousness in was burned to the ground. Men, women and children lay with their necks broken, their bodies twisted into unnatural shapes. Their bodies were heaped in the charred embers of what had been their homes.
The steady clop-clop of horses flooded into Indigo's ears. She pushed herself to a sitting position, but could not regain the strength to stand. She looked all around to see where the sounds were coming from.
In the distance, a patrol of ten horsemen was approaching. Five of them were human, dressed in blue and white tabards and gleaming silver chain mail. The others were brutish hulking creatures, dressed in frayed brown smocks. They all rode up next to her and stared.
"She did this! Destroy her!" one of the creatures growled.
"No," Indigo said, putting her hands up weakly. She tried to say more, but couldn't draw in the air.
"One woman destroyed an entire village, ogre? Think before you talk, creature!" The red-haired human who was obviously in charge nearly spat his words at the brutish creature.
"Watch your tongue, Feya Flamehair, lest I pull it out and wear it as a necklace!"
"Beware your own words, creature," said one of the other humans. "Else I use my sword to stop them in your throat."
"Where the hell am I?" Indigo finally forced out. Then she lost consciousness again.
The next time she woke up, Indigo felt stronger. The wounds inflicted on her by Azathoth were gone as if they had never existed. However, she still couldn't move. Orange bands of energy wrapped her from her shoulders down to her knees.
She lifted her head and looked around. She was in a small room, with an open hole which served as a window to the bright day outside. The room was sparsely furnished, holding only the bed she was lying on, a standing mirror which she could barely see from her position, and a small wooden dresser. The only door opened inward and a tall, thin man with short blond hair came in.
"You're awake, good. I am Mering, the wizard responsible for both your healing and your binding. I have some questions to ask of you."
"I'm not in much of a position to argue," Indigo replied bitterly.
"Now, now, don't worry. I've convinced the soldiers that you weren't responsible for the village's destruction. For one thing, your wounds weren't caused by the blades and pitchforks that the villagers would have used to defend their homes."
"I tried to stop it," Indigo said.
"Stop what? Did you see what happened in the village?"
"Yes, it was some kind of hulking monster, about twelve feet tall. I got up to stop it from destroying everything, but it just hit me and knocked me out again."
"How did you get there? Are you a member of the Faerie delegation?"
"No," Indigo said. She struggled against her bonds and then gave up. "Listen, could you let me up?"
Mering spoke a few words that Indigo couldn't understand and the orange bindings dissolved. She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Mering just looked at her, waiting patiently for her to continue.
"Look, I was in a battle, and I was knocked unconscious, and I woke up here. Where is here, anyway?"
"I'm not sure what your question means. Here is simply where we all live, unless you came from Faerie. That is the best explanation I can offer you."
Indigo stood and stretched her arms above her head, hearing her muscles pop as they extended. "Well, whatever. I'm not from Faerie. I need to contact my friends and family."
"Of course. What village are they in?"
"Village? Miami, I guess."
"I do not know of a village called Miami. You must be from Faerie."
Indigo grabbed the wizard by his lapels and hoisted him up to look in her face. "For the last time," she growled, "I am not from Faerie. I'm from Florida."
The door swung wide open as the red-haired human soldier and the ogre who had accompanied him rushed in, holding their weapons towards Indigo.
"Put him down, woman!" called the human.
Indigo dropped him on his behind and turned to face the soldiers. "I don't know what else to tell you. I didn't destroy the village, it was some kind of hulking monster."
Rage burned in the human's eyes. "So, ogre, it was your people who did this. You will pay for their destructive actions. This will shatter the peace treaty we were to sign! Why would you have done it?"
The ogre roared back at the man, "We have done nothing! You ignorant humans are quick to blame us for anything, and now even this painted woman calls us brutish, destructive creatures!"
"Boys," Indigo said. "Whatever is going on here, I can assure you that the thing that destroyed the village is not a member of either of your races. Tell me, do you have mutants here?"
Both of them responded with a blank stare. Indigo let out a deep sigh.
"Okay, I'll take that as a no. Now, I have no clue where I am, or how to get home, but the first step would seem to be to talk to all these Faeries that everyone thinks I belong to. Where are they?"
"Their delegation is staying at the Hungry Pegasi Inn," the ogre growled. "I will go with you, to make sure there is no lying going on."
"Then I'm going as well," the human said.
Indigo turned and walked out of the room. Her two escorts followed her, exchanging glances of hatred between themselves.
The Hungry Pegasi was, unlike the rest of the buildings in the town, not made of clay and wood. It was constructed of well-shaped red crystal, intricate right down to the perfectly-shaped portals which served as windows and doors.
"How did they do this?" Indigo gasped.
"Magic," the ogre snorted. He walked inside and his booming voice echoed out into the street. "Ale!"
Indigo walked in with the soldier called Feya Flamehair. They sat at a table made of solid gold, next to the ogre, who was already consuming his second glass tankard of ale. The smell of roasted meat filled the air, and Indigo found herself getting hungry.
Feya ordered a meal for all three of them. As they were waiting, Indigo tried to get a feel for the place. It was empty, with no one else there except for the man behind the bar.
"For a place this spectacular looking, it doesn't do much business," Indigo remarked.
"The Faerie are using it exclusively while they are here. No one else is allowed in," Feya explained.
"And yet you feel inclined to enter?" The musical voice came from a woman who nearly glowed with beauty, with fine white hair and pale skin, dressed in a translucent pink and white gown. Sparkles surrounded her like the nimbus of a candle.
"Everyone thinks I'm a member of your delegation," Indigo explained.
The Faerie's response was a soft twitter of laughter. "Oh, no!"
"Do not mock me, Faerie," growled the ogre, half rising from his seat.
"Oh, do be quiet, beast," she responded, and the ogre suddenly sat back down and stared straight ahead silently. Feya was in much the same condition.
"Now, then, we can talk without these men interrupting us." The Faerie sat down at the table and made a motion with her arms. A glass tankard filled with red wine floated to her, and a glass full of the liquid appeared in her hand. "I am Ambassador Seela, of Queen Medb's Court."
"Most people call me Indigo," Indigo replied. "So why are you here, and where is here, anyway?"
"Well, this is what we Sidhe call the Prime Lands, or, when we're in a less charitable mood, the Dead Lands. I'm here to oversee the signing of the Ogre-Human Peace Treaty."
Indigo cast a doubtful glance at her two frozen companions. "No offense, Seela, but these two are going to be allies? They seem ready to tear each others' throats out at any moment."
"I know. These attacks on the villages, seemingly by ogres, are not helping the diplomats. Still, after the bloody war that happened some time ago, peace was necessary. Being one of the few Sidhe able to tolerate you short-lived folk, I was sent to make sure everything went smoothly. And it hasn't."
"The attacks aren't by ogres," Indigo said, taking a sip of the ogre's ale. "It was some kind of hulking monster, about twelve feet tall with red eyes. It was dressed in a black cloak and a black hat."
Seela dropped her glass and it shattered on the floor, splattering red wine everywhere. "I must go," she stammered.
Feya and the ogre began moving and arguing again, and Indigo shook her head, realizing that in that split second, Seela had disappeared. But the broken glass was still there, and the wine spread on the floor like a puddle of blood.
"What just happened?" Indigo yelled, jumping to her feet.
"The damn Faerie froze all of us and vanished, she does it all the time," the ogre growled. He then resumed arguing with Feya.
Indigo grabbed the ogre's arm and squeezed hard enough to make him wince. "She didn't freeze me. She just said she had to go and disappeared when I told her about the thing that attacked the village."
"She knows something," Feya said. "Damn the Faerie! I'll bet this is all their fault!"
"No," came Seela's musical voice. She had reappeared and was sitting atop the crystalline bar. "It is the fault of this woman and those like her."
Seela dropped to the floor with the grace of a cat and glided over to where the three of them stood.
"The creature is called Zorm. He was once and will be again the master of Faerie Illusion and pretender to the throne. He is now and always has been but is not yet the creature known on Earth as the Monster."
"Don't give us your riddles, Faerie!" the ogre yelled. "What do you know of this 'Monster?'"
"Time flows differently in the land of twilight, ogre. I will attempt to explain so that your mundane minds can understand. By your reckoning, people like this woman arrived in this world nearly thirty years ago. They journeyed to the realm of Faerie. While they were and are there, they defeated Zorm. They refused to allow him to be executed, and so he will be cast into the area of chaos. He will emerge as a hideous beast and has left the land of twilight and our own lands for the realms of these mortals. This all happened thirty years from now."
The ogre dented the golden table with a meaty fist. "Damn it, woman, my head is beginning to ache! How can he be in two places at once?"
"He cannot return to the land of Faerie until after the time that he has left. In Faerie, your friends are still in attendance, Indigo. We asked them about you, but they had no idea what we were talking about, so it seems clear that you are from their future. They will not leave Faerie for what is another thirty years in this dimension and your own. But our seers have predicted the outcome, and this is how the Monster is and will be created."
"I'm with you, ogre," Feya said. "My head hurts."
"Mine, too," Indigo agreed. "Listen, none of us can understand the mindset necessary to understand what you're saying. It's like a paradigm shift that our minds can't make."
All three of them stared at Indigo. "It's a term from my world, skip it. Bottom line is, what can we do to stop this Zorm?"
"I don't know," Seela replied. "Zorm is a master illusionist, and in his current form, is physically strong as well. We need powerful magicians."
"Wolfgang and Oberstein are masters of illusion. I can fetch them, they will be of great help," Feya offered.
"And I will bring ten of the strongest ogres to battle Zorm," the ogre said.
Feya and the ogre walked out of the bar. Seela collapsed into one of the nearby chairs. "Wolfgang and Oberstein will be no help," she muttered. "They'll probably kill Feya so they don't have to explain why they can't help. No, we'll need stronger magic."
Again, Seela faded into nothingness. Indigo yelled, but couldn't stop her. She ran out to stop Feya after what she had heard, but he was already gone. Irritated, she turned and walked back into the bar. The bartender started, as if he was waking from a bad dream. He grinned at Indigo. "What can I get you, miss?"
"A ticket out," she replied, sitting down at the table.
Outside the bar, Zorm the Monster growled his frustration and turned away from the door. Killing the blue woman would serve no purpose, and his reason for remaining at the Hungry Pegasi had gone. So should he.
* * * * *
Indigo waited for two hours, drinking two ales, before Seela returned. The Faerie looked nervous, and cast a worried glance around the bar.
"The ogres haven't returned?" she asked.
The answer didn't come from Indigo, but rather from a throaty voice issued from outside the tavern.
"I killed the ogre and the human right after they left. No one is coming to help you, Seela. And your avenue to the Sidhe Lands is now shattered."
As if on cue, lightning flashed outside, silhouetting the monstrous form of Zorm, standing in the doorway of the tavern. He stepped in and the crystal walls closed behind him. All of the windows were sealed by melting crystal as well, leaving the room completely dark.
Seela spoke a strange word and her body glowed, giving off enough light to cast the entire room in a dim glow. Zorm was nowhere to be seen. Indigo looked over at the bartender, who was staring with fright at the sealed entry-way. Then his neck twisted itself all around until his eyes were staring behind his body. He dropped to the floor behind the bar.
Zorm reappeared next to the body. His laughter began as a small cackle and erupted into a cacophony of hideous noise. Indigo felt a chill run down her spine. Before she regained her courage, Zorm had leaped at her from behind the bar. He swung his claws in an arc and cut her across the mid-section. Ooze flowed from the wound in her gelatinous body.
Indigo spun to face him and received a claw slash across her face. She swung a punch in return, but Zorm dodged out of the way.
"Too slow," he taunted her. Then he slashed her arm, opening another wound.
His final blow was a solid punch to her jaw, which knocked her across the bar and into one of the crystal walls. She collapsed and lay very still.
The door spread open again and Zorm picked up Seela with one arm. She beat on his back furiously, but he just laughed at her feeble strength. He stepped through the door and took a deep breath, mocking the clear air of the outdoors.
Indigo pushed herself to her feet. She crept quietly behind Zorm and wound up for a punch. She yelled as she swung her fist solidly into Zorm's back.
The Monster flew across the street, crashing into a stable. Seela wriggled enough to make sure that she didn't contact anything at that velocity. When they landed, some distance away, Seela stood up and ran towards Indigo. She was halfway there when Zorm rose from the pile of wood that he had landed in.
He roared ferociously, shattering nearby windows. People emerged from nearby buildings to see what was going on. An ogre patrol in a nearby tavern stepped into the street to investigate.
Zorm gazed around and laughed.
"There!" Indigo yelled. "That's the thing that's been destroying the villages, not ogres!"
"Do you truly think it matters," Zorm rumbled. "I'll destroy this village and all of you as well. And again there will be no witnesses to my crimes. The ogres will be blamed."
"But why?" Seela asked. "What stake do you have in the ogre/human wars?"
"I am a creature of illusion and chaos. What better purpose could I serve than to use my illusion to foster chaos? It was what I was created for! And not one of you has the power to stop me."
A glowing portal opened behind Zorm. He turned and shrieked at its brilliance. From inside stepped a beautiful Faerie woman. Seela dropped to one knee.
"Queen Medb," she said softly.
"Zorm," Medb sighed. "When Ambassador Seela informed me of your actions, I was distressed. I wish that I could prevent your creation. But, lacking the power to do that, I can at least remove you from my province."
As Medb spoke, Zorm's body began to shimmer. Seconds later, he disappeared entirely.
"Did you kill him?" Indigo asked in horror.
"No," Medb answered. "I created him, I cannot unmake him. But I banished him from this world and from the land of Faerie forever."
"Banished him where?" Indigo asked, hoping that her suspicions were wrong.
"To your lands. After all, if not for your people, the Monster would not even exist. It seems to me he is your problem."
"But you can't hold those few people, whoever they were, responsible for the entire world! They may be dead by now!"
"No. They exist, and will soon return to your world. If you like, I will send you to them so that you may inform them of their task."
"Fine," Indigo said. "That will be just fine."
Queen Medb waved her hands and Indigo shimmered and disappeared, just as Zorm had done moments before.
* * * * *
Later, in her private chambers, Medb spoke to a ghostly image who had appeared to her.
"My favor is done. Whatever debt I owe you is paid. Indigo has gone to where you ordered her sent."
Samsara smiled. "Thank you, Queen Medb. May all be well in your future." His ghostly image disappeared.