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"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on." - Robert Frost

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Shadow Play

Chapter Fifteen

Wiltshire Armageddon

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Jethro Dumont was dead. There was no other explanation for why he didn't return. He had left late last night (or early this morning, depending on one's point of view) in a last-ditch effort to "save" Jay Wheeler. Jethro had explained all this in a note which might as well as have been a suicide note. Wheeler was too far gone to be saved.

That was the ultimate source of Jethro's greatest strength and worst weakness. Jethro Dumont believed in people. As such, he had an amazing power to reach those others couldn't (and wouldn't). At times, Timothy Roland found himself jealous of his quiet conviction in the human spirit's ability to overcome one's demons, both metaphor and literal ones. Tim wished more people were like Jethro Dumont. It would definitely be a better place. One where no one ever brought about apocalypse via Germanic war god to watch the world burn.

Wiltshire County, a "ceremonial" county in South West England, was that sleepy collection of small towns that made the small towns in the United States look like bustling metropolises. Yet, Nowheresville harbored one of the greatest enigmas on Planet Earth: Stonehenge.

According to Ace, it was called the Sun-Stone and it possessed a number of rather interesting properties. for one thing, the structure pulled in and concentrated a form of cosmic energy even agencies like the Culper Ring or the Special Operations Executive didn't have the tech necessary to detect, much less use, this alternative energy.

As Tim was about to ask her how they even knew it was there, a blink of an eye later and the group was ambushed. As a kid, Tim's imagination often wondered about strange hybrids between beasts. On the subject of spiders crossed with lamprey eels, these monsters had satisfied his child-like curiosity. Their mouths were portals to Hell lined with rows upon rows of dagger-like teeth leading all the down its throat. Tim felt a fluttering urge to faint as the creatures drew near to him. Diana, always ready, placed a hand on each of her pistols.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Jay Wheeler said as he rose out of the ground like a vampire leaving his grave. "Sight of blood, even their own, could trigger a feeding frenzy." Diana sighed as she took her hands off her guns. "Come now. Let us find quarters for our guests." These spiders herded them all in a south-westernly direction.

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Carol Lewis Whitney's powers were gone. Ever since Carol had killed Anthony Trent in the Fawcett Building on Halloween night, she had lost her undead resilience, shapeshifting and, most importantly, the fire of the goddess Pele, the one weapon that could harm Tiwaz.

Carol had tried to hide her condition but, the moment the gods singled her out, she knew deep down that the truth would come out. "We're screwed," Tim said as he paced over their cell. "By the way, excellent time with the confession." Tim shook his head. "It might've been helpful to know that before walking onto a battlefield with an empty gun." Carol sighed. That was all she was to them now. Empty gun. Her one true purpose stripped away from her. Tim sat down, his head in his hands, surely thinking of the deaths planned out for them.

Carol looked through the enchanted adamantine bars at their captor, Jay Wheeler AKA Gaius Martius AKA Sword. "Please," Carol said, trying to ape Jethro's wise words. "You don't have to do this. It doesn't have to end this way. You can still do the right thing." A smirk came over Jay's face. Carol would responded the exact same way.

Jay laughed. "The late Jethro Dumont's naivete has rubbed off on an unwilling protege." Jay stared closely at Carol. "My eyes stare at the electrons lighting up all the neural pathways in your brain. You don't really believe that I can be saved." Carol shook her head. Jay growled. "Then why bother trying?" Jay asked with a gravelly voice.

Carol sighed. "Because that is what humans do!" Carol yelled, a cauldron of emotions bubbling over the top in a rich froth. "Tiwaz is a lot of things but he isn't human and doesn't know or care that you were once a good man. Nor does he realize I fought my way across the afterlife to be here again, avenging my dead husband's lost soul and finding someone who would give me the power to do that." An orange-red light emanated from her hands. "Doing the impossible is what humans do." Carol stared at the fire coming from her hands. A look of hope spread like a wild fire among her cellmates. "Changing one's destiny isn't impossible." Carol smiled warmly. "It's just diffcult."

Jay Wheeler stared at Carol Lewis Whitney, a transfixed look of shock on his pale face like he had seen a ghost. "I'm back," Carol proclaimed in a sing-song tone of voice. Jay Wheeler broke his gaze with Carol and ran down the cooridor, fleeing the fire of a goddess.

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Koichi Araki zeroed in on his targets. The five were being held in a dimensional phase variant, colloquially known as a fairy mound. A part of Koichi wanted to rip out his own cranial processing unit. Long months of listening to a braying jackass locked inside his mainframe had lead him to one conclusion. Father would not have wanted this.

All this time, Koichi had been fighting on behalf of the dead yet he turned a deaf ear to those plaintive pleas for sanity from beyond the grave. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself, Koichi's positronic brain couldn't rationalize wholesale slaughter for a man who didn't believe in such excessive violence. Such, like any officer of the law, Koichi might have to take a life but only when he had no other choice. This little voice in his head told him Koichi had plenty of choices. Hence, almost all the violence he had done up to now had been, by definition, excessive. This was what Dad would've wanted.

With the sole exception of a dozen hot-headed countries here and there, Koichi had listened as the whole world, in one collective voice, declared war on Tiwaz. The World Court called him a criminal and, as a cop by design, it was Tachyon's duty to arrest Tiwaz. To do that, he would need the aid of those who had tried to kill before. The ones currently locked away in a fairy mound. Tachyon ran into there.

The SHADOW's newest member was trying to burn the bars of their cell. Carol Lewis Whitney, widow of Walter Whitney AKA Bob Phanton, a costumed crimefighter with no supernormal attributes, had returned from the dead, endowed with power by Antaclean princess Pele. Unfortunately, the bars were adamantine. Fire would only make the bars stronger. Tachyon appeared in front of them and pulled at the bars. The metal strained after a minute of exertion and finally gave way. Adamantine truly was a metal fitted for the divine.

Everyone stopped and stared at Koichi Araki for one hundred and eighty-seven seconds. That quiet yet persistent voice in his head explained the situation. They had no reason in the world to trust him. He would have to give them one. "I'm not here to kill you," he said in a matter-of-factually tone. "The war god Tiwaz is a criminal sought out by the World Court. I am here to serve the warrant for his arrest."

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Diana Adams watched another giant fanged spider collapse at her feet. According to Ace, these creatures, these Agorites were basically able to regenerate from goo but their hearts were sensitive to cardiac arrhythmia. One bullet through its small heart and even a full regeneration couldn't get the damn thing beating again. Ergo, a lot of dead yet intact Agorite corpses dotted the battlefield around Stonehenge. It was disconcerting to see the enemy dead yet lifelike.

Tim had teased her about all the ammo she had loaded herself down with. Tim wasn't so teasing anymore. Tim's machete, though a serviceable means of reaching an Agorite's heart, was still ungainly, even with his supernormal muscles. Diana preferred a lot of bullets to blades. They were quick and clean and stuck with surgical precision.

Diana pulled both triggers. Click. Click. Of course, all bladed weapons had the distinct advantage of never needing to reload. A bull Agorite roared at Diana as he reared back on his hind legs. Tim thrusted his machete into its chest as it charged towards her. Timothy smiled as he brandished the machete out in front of him. "You okay, Diana?" She nodded. Once again, her black knight had saved her.

Timothy Roland cracked his neck. "C'mon, boys. Step out." The smile on his face was priceless. "I could do all night, ladies." Tim and the rest of the team didn't know what gender applies to Agorites. A race of hermaphrodites, Agorites were technically male and female for the purposes of reproduction. Diana preferred to think of them as neither, just another "it" that her bullets needed to blast into oblivion.

Not exactly the most Al Gore friendly opinion of sapient entities roped into the mad scheme of a Germanic war god but Diana had trouble being PC with something that was trying to kill her. Her pistols were useless now. Hikaru waved a SIG Sauer P226 in the air. "Catch!" Hikaru yelled as he tossed the handgun at her. Diana caught it and shot twenty spiders' hearts. Those spiders fell down, tombstone dead.

"Holy ..." Tim stared at a pile of corpses like something out of a Conan the Barbarian adventure. Emptying a whole clip with nothing but kill shots was a new personal best for her. Even she was stunned. Nonetheless, these Agorites numbered around hundred. The eighty still alive would sup upon the flesh of their dead. Carol solved that problem by torching the pile. They were winning. Until Tiwaz arrived.

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"You are a disgrace, Gaius," Tiwaz said without mincing words. Tiwaz raised his metal hand and everyone on the battlefield, friend and foe alike, stopped moving. "I leave you in charge for a couple of days and what do I find when I return?" Tiwaz shook his head. "My glorious army ... now three-quarters its original size. You're pathetic."

Tiwaz's telepathy reached out its psychic tentacles across the battlefield and culled thoughts from the brains of the combatants except for the one with the machine brain "You let them live." Tiwaz laughed. "It is total war, you fool. We grant no quarter to enemies."

Koichi Araki, the one called Tachyon, spoke. "That is a violation of the Geneva Conference." Tiwaz seemed amused by the remark. "War god Tiwaz, you are under arrest." Tiwaz teleported next to the android with the big mouth. "You are to report to the World Court to stand trial for crimes against humanity." Tiwaz laughed again at him.

"You don't get it, do you?" Tiwaz paced around Koichi. "Pretty soon, there won't be a humanity to commit crimes against." Gaius was smitten with the Digital Man's courage. Not a lot of people who had met a god had the guts to say the kind of things he was saying.

Koichi shook his head. "That is irrevelant." Tiwaz gritted his teeth in reply. "You are a criminal and, as long as society is intact, you are subject to its laws." Koichi Araki smirked at Tiwaz. "Will you comply?"

Tiwaz snapped his fingers. Jay came running. "Gaius," Tiwaz said in that faux-polite tone of his. "Please show this machine man how we comply to such requests around here." Jay looked at Koichi. Tiwaz was giving him an order to kill. He could have done that with the same gesture he used to summon him, the snapping of fingers.

Then, Jay realized something he should have back when Jethro was still alive and in one piece. Jay Wheeler had traded the curse of one god for another. Jay reared back his fist and sealed his fate. The fist of his left hand collided against Tiwaz's face, godly mojo coursing through his veins. "Did you honestly believe you could use my power against me?" Jay was doomed. Then, he saw, a trickle of blood run down his nose. Jay dabbed his fingers in it and showed it to Tiwaz. A look of fear disappeared as a look of rage took over. "No! No!" the wounded war god growled. Jay delivered another punch to Tiwaz's ugly face. Then, one after another. Then, something fell from the sky.

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Major Ross Hamilton slammed a fist into the ground as he stuck the landing from a mile up, splitting the earth open "Howdy, Tiwaz," Ross said with West Texan charm. "Remember me?" Tiwaz balled his fists. "By the way," Ross straightened up his posture and extended his hand. "Hope you don't mind." Entities made of stars materialized on top of Stonehenge. They changed, taking on their traditional "looks."

"I figured I should bring the cavalry with me." Fear, the things only a couple people had even seen in Tiwaz's eyes, shone through. Ross had aligned all the gods against. "These good old boys weren't too keen on killing you but I reckon you ain't getting off that easy." A look of bemusement came over Tiwaz. "What's so funny?" he asked.

Then, it happened. Bolt of energy flew off of Stonehenge and into Tiwaz's body. The gods charged at him. Tiwaz pressed his hands outwards. The gods scattered like ragdolls. "I had been hoping for a chance to test my new energy absorption power." Mars, the god who had taken his right hand, drew his sword. A cloud of electricity flew off of Mars. The Roman war god fell to his knees, a desiccated corpse. The others stepped back. "You see. Your powers are mine."

Major Ross Hamilton stepped forwards joined only by his mortal companions. The gods were too frightened to feed Tiwaz more mojo from their private stashes. Even the turncoat immortal and homicidal android were among the ranks of those silently telling Tiwaz to go to Hell. "I reckon you're gonna have to eat me. 'Cause ain't quittin' 'til one of us is on Boot Hill." Tiwaz opened impossibly wide. Ross felt his power leaving his body. "Amigo, you are as dumb as you are ugly."

Tiwaz grinned. Then, it hit him. A heart attack hiccup. "Nobody told you this but my power ain't good for your digestion." Ross smiled as Tiwaz realized his fate. "So I reckon you gonna die." Tiwaz roared as he fell to his knees. Ross looked over at the others. "Been an honor to work you folks." Ross saw Tiwaz's heart glowing inside him. "Hope I see y'all on the other side." An envelope of light swallowed them all. Somewhere in the cosmos, Victoria and Fumiko waited for his arrival.

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Alice McCoy took a moment to realize she wasn't dead. Then, her mind caught up with what happened. Just before the flash, pair of arms wrapped around her and Alice closed her eyes. When Alice opened them again, Hikaru Strange was hold her in his slender arms.

"I hope that F-Serum covers radiation damage because you're going to need it." Hikaru smiled as radiation scars appeared on his face. "As for me, I guess I'm going to meet my father in Heaven." A look of surprise came over her. "Of course, I knew it was him." Hikaru smirked. "Mom never stopped talking about how he looked. I never saw the guy in my life and I probably could have picked him out of a line-up if I had to." He laughed a little. "Which I guess I kinda did."

Alice McCoy wanted to share her one last secret with Hikaru Strange before he died. Something she had never told anyone. "The 'F' in the F-Serum stands for ... 'Frankenstein.'" Hikaru's eyes bulged. "When they started on me, I was only a head with a little more than half of a torso attached. All the rest of me was ... borrowed." Alice smirked. "So I guess you can say I've been living on borrowed parts and borrowed time for the last sixty-six years." Alice shed a lone tear.

"And I'm ready to go now." Alice looked around at the crater Tiwaz left behind. "There's literally nothing left for me anymore." Alice reached for her reliable Luger. "Except my old friend here." Hikaru shook his head. "It's true." He cried. "We both know it's true."

Alice gasped as Hikaru Strange reached into her chest. As she thought she would choke to death, Hikaru's hand withdrew, carrying a little metal object with him. "You have your freedom." He crushed the tracking device into dust. "And you will always have ... me." Eyes rolled to the back of his head as Hikaru joined his fellow soldiers. Ace looked down at Hikaru's dead body, then back at her trusty Luger.

Alice fell to her knees, loaded the Luger and placed it under her chin. A pull of trigger and the shot went off. Followed by another and another until all eight bullets in the clip were spent. Alice smiled.

Alice took a deep breath. Alice launched the empty gun into the sky. Alice climbed up onto her feet and got her bearings. If she was right, London was in that direction. It was 86 miles by foot but the F-Serum was capable of supporting her walk. For the first time in forever, Alice McCoy felt like she was headed in the right direction.

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THE END

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