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issue 2: the rider and the warrior

pt 1






The walls in here are bleached the colour of bone. The fluorescent lights never dim, never set. Underneath the sweet stench of disinfectant lies the stink of death, vomit, shit and blood. The slow, monotonous beeping of the ECG, the valleys and peaks forming a maze of suspense, is a funereal bell in disguise.

The skeletal hand gripping his own is ice-cold. The skin is stretched and pale from years upon years of burnt hopes and failed promises. The man who first taught him how to ride a Harley Davidson at the age of nine is dying. He presses his keys into his palm, a eagle feather hooked through the ring. He whispers words meant for him only. The hand then falls and the maze becomes a straight line headed in one direction, one road.

it’s time to collect your debt

He had a promise. He made a deal.

the deal was 8 years. 8 years to savor the life of the client and settle your affairs. You had more than enough time.

He lied. The rage burns through him. A thirst begins to bubble in him. Vengeance.

ah, you’re a quick learner.

The fire boils in his belly and scours his skin until it is char. He has no recourse but the endless road ahead and the souls of sinners to sate his thirst.

He rides.





“ - towards your next destination. We remind all guests that we have arrived at New Orleans, Louisiana. We thank all guests for riding with Amtrek and await your ….”

The honeyed, dulcet monotone of the tour bus announcer wakes Johnny up. He blinks as laggard memories of the last few weeks trickle back down into his brain like water down a shower drain. He remembers Vegas, a few drinks, the back of his throat burning with booze. His lips purse in recollection. The casino over by Fifth and Smesson. The fortune teller. Fire. He draws blanks after that.

Being the Rider is a bender and hangover cure all in one.

Rubbing his head, he crawls off the bus, stepping onto the grass knotted sidewalk on to the I-90. It’s midday and the sun is cutting a boiling red streak towards the horizon, the blue sky growing duskier by the minute. He waits for the crowd of oddly dressed tourists and travellers to disperse before walking to joining another oddly dressed group of five individuals waiting underneath the rusted hulk of a bus stand.

“ Well, that was sure weird as hell,” Johnny said, flicking a thumb over his shoulder at the departing tourists. “ What the hell’s wrong with their get up?”

“ It’s New Orleans,” Jack answered. Teh werewolf, to Johnny's amusement, is currently huddling underneath an oversized trenchcoat. The werewolf signs at at Johnny’s blank stare. “ You ever been down south before or do you mainly just go around the rockies wearing leather all the time?”

“ Eh, beats being you, wolfie. ”

“ Don’t call me wolfie,

AVALANCHE

Throughout the storm and the hundred mile per hour winds in the depths of the Pacific Ocean, Lachlan thought that it was the most comfortable sleep he had after finishing his tour in Kurdistan. He had sat on his bed in Leceister and thought he’d would sink into it as though it was a cloud of marshmallows. The Osprey was a baby’s crib in comparison to Fallajuah.

Lachlan rolled his shoulders to shake off the pricking sensations of numbness and looked outside. The black waves outside rolled and slammed against each other, sending up sprays of white froth in the turbulent storm the Osprey was cutting through. It was hardly the kind of weather the Osprey was conditioned for and most veteran pilots would blink twice before stepping into the cockpit.

Then again, this wasn’t a usual mission.

Aliens. The mere thought of the word alone made him giggle. When he was first debriefed by his superiors on the nature of Minerva Force, he thought they were pulling his leg. Being in the Majesty’s army was a simple concept. Fighting for your country required no thought. Joining a multinational taskforce to fight hostiles of unknown origin was certainly new ground for him. If Lachlan was in the foot of the invaders, he would have wondered why they hadn't brutally slaughtered every head of government. Certainly, if he was in the enemy shoes, he would consider that. Yet, these aliens were not Gurkhas and Gurkhas had never fought aliens. He would be the first.

Then again, all that mattered was if they bled.

If they bled, they could be killed.

Satisfied with his musings, Lachlan unsheathed his kuhkri and held it up to eye-level to examine it. The blade glimmered in the dim red light of the bay, the spine curving at an oblique angle. The metal shone dark grey and the width was short at the hilt, growing wider before ending in a wickedly sharp point.Lachlan took out a whetstone from his belt and tilted the blade downwards. His arm began to move up and down against the blade, scraping away against it with mechanical precision. It was more out of habit rather than out of necessity, like how a person chews their nails or gnaws the inside of their cheek during a task. The knife was sharp enough, he was sure of that.

“ I’d hardly refer to Manchester as a ‘shithole’, yankee," Lachlan said in a calm, steady tone, " but a mission is far more better than being stuck in the reserves all the time.”

“ But I’d recommend we concentrate on the task ahead,” Lachlan gave the kukri one final stroke before sheathing it. “ There is no need for this….dick-waving contest as you Westerners call it. We are one unit. We act and focus as one. The sooner we put our egos aside, the sooner we can go back to base and rest up." He looked pointedly at Paladin after he gave his comment. " A little too soon for titles, comrade. Mission control specified that we were to locate the maritime vessel. There is no certainty of a hostile being present."

He adjusted his watch cap, making sure to strap the camera on it before cocking the trigger of the M249 SAW slinged on his shoulder.

" I, for one, am looking forward to having a nice long drink back at base once this is over."
Post-Post 1 thoughts

- this took way too long

- references in phantom stranger dialogue to Neil Gaiman stuff. Feels appropriate for this.

- i think abstract came up with the idea of xanadu and vegas somehow felt natural to begin aka city of sin and all that jazz.

- lex luthor is a easter egg. he's prob just some elon musk guy in our alternate earth.

- personally was thinking about writing an extended intro where each character enters into Xanadu's place of residence but
that would have taken way too fucking long.

- is this the perfect intro? no, but it sets the stage.

- NOLA was chosen randomly. i think i also used the setting for my version of Blade (which never really took off).

- and that's it in terms of thoughts.
I was the Phantom Stranger.

I see the end of days. I see a woman, ivory-skinned and dressed in black, turn off the light and close the door. I hang up my hat and my coat. I walk out with her. I don’t look back.

I am the Phantom Stranger.

I see a blue world. I see pearls falling onto damp concrete. I see a comet from a doomed world. I see gods fall. I see men rise.

I will be the Phantom Stranger.

There is nothing more to say.

don’t be so sure, darling

I am the Phantom Stranger and I see your defeat.

when? in a million years? i will be defeated, wanderer, but not anytime soon.

I am the Phantom Stranger and I have the first move.

ah. the mortals.

well, wanderer, you now have my attention. try to amuse me this time.






issue 1: call 666-666-666 in case of emergencies





SOMEWHERE IN LAS VEGAS

MADAME XANADU’S TAROT HOUSE


In all of the various casinos that lined the Vegas Strip, the Tarot House was not the most famous but it commanded a certain reputation. It was the oldest on the strip by far and if you asked a local, they would have sworn it had been there since 1970. Or 1950. Or before the Alamo. Regardless, it was a squat purple brick, the old wood and concrete walls intertwined with vines and speckled with vines. Within its walls, its patrons gambled their lives away under the guise of violet curtains and lily-scented oiled smoke that cloyed at the walls.

In the basement of the Tarot House, guarded by two burly half-troll guards with sloping bear-like shoulders, was a door. And a door after the first door. Past several heavy doors wrought in wood, iron, silver, and all manner of strange materials, Madame Xanadu sat unmoving. A cigarette burned impossibly slow between her fingers, embers never traveling further along the rolled paper. Bookcases lined every wall of the room. Ancient tomes marked with swirling scripts, battered things, summoned from the ether, and rested heavy on the shelves, full of words written in tongues long since forgotten. Scattered objects, strange in every imaginable way, filled the gaps between the books. A collection of grim talismans that pulsed with magic and the unmistakable touch of the occult.

The faint, pleasant smell of jasmine was everywhere, overcoming even the burning smell of nicotine. A candle flicked on the table, red wax slowly seeping onto the table. Six chairs had been strewn in front, occupied by six strangers. Cards spun slowly through the air, one held in place above Madame Xanadu's extended finger.

Turning her attention away from the floating card, she spoke, her sonorous voice sickly sweet for a moment, “You wonder, perhaps, why I have brought you here?”

“Free drinks?” The first voice that morphed into a multitude of voices replied, whispers of hideous laughter seeming to shiver into existence from several parts of the tatterdemalion form all at once.

The second voice that replied was clipped, slow, each vowel a cog in some great mechanical device“ Hauling six strangers out into the Mojave desert, each of whom have no prior connections to each other.Everyone here acts familiar around you. They know you. You’re here to collect.”

Ah, an astute observation. There may be hope for you yet.” “I have aided you, one and all, and my help does not come free. You knew this, I told you my price, I warned you, when you sought me out that my services do not come free. You will not refuse me, not now, not ever. We have a contract. We have a deal.

“ YOU THINK YOU CAN HOLD ME TO A CONTRACT?,” The third voice crackled like a furnace, each syllable piercing the air like a fire poker. The temperature in the room rose by a few degrees.

Madame Xanadu smirked, her eyes calmly meeting the two smoldering embers that glared at her with righteous fury.

“Some deal,” The fourth voice bitterly intoned with a heavy french brogue. “An agreement made at gunpoint is hardly a fair bargain.”

What price would you put on your life? Do not play the fool. I saved you. You would not have made it out of Paris if it had not been for my help. I can happily see you returned if that is your wish? No? How terribly unsurprising. A sensible choice, but your lack of gratitude does you little credit.

The fifth voice, a soft voice, full of the sounds of the West, the City of Angels, interrupted. The most normal figure in the room, the young woman looked like a poster child for a dated music video featuring the Cure. Black lipsticked lips were pursed in a careful frown, a hand rested nervously on the silver ring of her choker, and her painfully obvious magical staff was held in her other hand, leaning lightly against the side of her chair as she gripped it tightly, "Umm, I don't mean to be rude, but I’ve got some things to deal with, some bigger problems, maybe you can find someone else? Someone better suited for this task.”

“Bigger problems? Someone else?” Madame Xanadu hissed, shaking her head.

“Yeah, maybe you can find someone else! You know, some real heroes? Like Zatanna, Doctor Strange, or Brother Voodoo,” the cackling collective cheerfully added, somehow managing a conspiratorial wink beneath the strange garb they wore.

“Are you questioning my judgment?” The goth fashioned girl shrunk under the clairvoyant’s glare as she continued speaking. “ I choose the tools according to the task, but……you wouldn’t be my first choice.”

“ What the hell are you trying to say, lady?” The sixth voice said, no, growled, hackles raised, the anger in it leashed and tugged at its collar frenetically. “ You summoned us here, all the way to bumfuck nowhere, just to shit on us?”

“Pah, Vegas is hardly nowhere, the rooms furnished to you were nothing to complain about. I could have left you sleeping on the floor in some warehouse. Perhaps next time? I do not waste kindness on the ungrateful…”

The fabric shrouded figure shook its head, “It would’ve been a whole lot nicer if I didn’t have to share my room with a stranger, no offense to Miss Stabbity and her glowing sword over there.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers, as they say. A sad fact that I am well aware of at this very moment. You’re not the best. You’re not even the second best. You’re a bunch of losers. Thieves. Deadbeats. Butchers. Magical sledgehammers, vagabonds, and pantless beasts.”

The wizened fortune teller continued to hold her expression of contempt for a few seconds, emerald eyes before surrendering it with a sigh of resignation.

“ But you will do, you will suffice for this mission.”

“ What mission?,” The fourth voice enquired.

“ The Phantom Stranger has gone missing.”

“ IMPOSSIBLE. I WOULD HAVE SENSED ITS PRESENCE.”

“ Yes, if only you had the patience to remain with your prior host, Spirit. You only have had time to acclimate to your mortal form for a week.”

“ I don’t get it. Who the heck is this stranger guy?”

“ He is a Lord of Balance.”

“Never heard of him,” the multimodal voice quipped, draping itself over the armrests of the large fabric chair it had claimed. The opossum perched on their shoulder released a low yawn, before they continued, “Balance doesn’t sound like my problem.”

The second voice interjected, their voice terse.“ He is an agent of the Green Hooded One, the Guardian of the Aether, the Spectre. They are the gatekeepers of this reality. ” With realization, the second voice slowly turned their head to the clairvoyant with a new look“ And you are as well.”

“ The Hooded One has many voices and hands on which to act, hedge mage.” The second voice bristled at the jab. Madame Xanadu took no heed of it as she continued on. “ But your observations are correct. He has gone missing.”

“ I don’t get it.” The final voice, the beastly one, asked. “Why doesn't this Spectre guy just deal with his own business?”

“ Take care of how you speak his name, half-breed. You talk blithely about matters of which you know nothing about.”

“ What my esteemed colleague means to say is that the Spectre has many matters to focus his attention on. Direct intervention by him in the mortal plane would take an inordinate amount of focus and limitless power does not equate to finesse. It’s why the Spectre usually uses agents such as Xanadu over here or…the Stranger.”

“ A simple explanation, hedge mage,” said Xanadu.

“ But where would we even begin finding him?,” The voice of voices spoke once again, amusement turned to a screeching whine.

“ I do not give you the answers, soulkeeper. Only this promise. That your debts will be released upon completion of this task.” Xanadu took another drag from her cigarette, her face growing more shadowed before stubbing it out in a copper ashtray. She snapped her fingers and a circle of candles lit around the seven figures, turning the room red and orange. From under her left sleeve, a curved dagger emerged, pale scrimshaw gliding across the flat, and the ruby encrusted grip glowing ominously in the candlelight.

“ Your hands,” said Xanadu. “ If you would please.”

Slowly, six hands came forth, four of flesh, one of flame and one of fur.

“ Hold on,” The fifth voice whined. “ Are you sure you cleaned that knife properly-”

Xanadu was swift yet gentle, the edge of the dagger biting through the skin and sinking into the flesh. Streams of ichor pooled into a small pewter basin, swirling together in a stormy red eddy. Xanadu began to chant slowly, her voice pouring like a river into every corner and crack of the small basement.

“ I, Madame Xanadu, in authority of the Lords of Balance, the Earth and the Hooded One, bind you to three truths. I bind you to find the Phantom Stranger. I bind you to not seek any ill intention against my patrons. I bind your shadows to be one until this pact is fulfilled.” She paused and the candle flames became frozen. “I bid you six thee farewell.”

The pewter bowl bubbled, a fountain of red spraying up in the air, before the . Before the six strangers could say a word, Madame Xanadu clapped her hands and stood up.

“ Alright, we’re done here.” She said quickly. “ Shoo now. I have a very important guest coming in the next 30 seconds.”

“ Wait, where do we begin looking - “

“ Get. Out.” She nodded towards the pair of burly trolls that arrived in, wielding clubs that were about the size of a man. “ Boris, Kochansky, please escort our guests out.”

As they were being roughly guided out of the basement, the faint shadow of Xanadu’s voice could be heard behind them, growing ever more quiet.

“ Ah, Mr Luthor, I have been expecting you. I assume your investments in LexCoin have paid off…..”




The doors to the Tarot House slammed shut, leaving the hastily shepherded group of magicians with a fading vision of the two considerably sized trolls and their menacing cudgels. A chill wind battered the unlikely party, the unlucky souls who had been unceremoniously tossed out into the desert night. Bright neon strips loomed in the distant, no longer glowing pleasantly, but instead shining with a fell light that filled their hearts with uncertain dread. The threads of the ritual still hung heavy in the air. Powerful magic did not fade so quickly. They were bound together now and the chains that bound them seemed to rattle in the darkness.

“ So, where the hell do we begin?”, The wolf-man asked,

“ In a bar with good drinks, I know just the one,” the laughing tatterdemalion offered, shrugging with obvious boredom when they were met with pointed glares.

The trenchcoat hatted man sat on the side of the boardwalk, ignoring the looks drunk tourists and casino-gamblers sent his way. He reached into his trenchcoat and produced the pewter bowl that he had snatched from Madame Xanadu. The bottom was still dried with blood from all six of them. He took out a piece of chalk, hastily sketched a circle on the concrete and placed the bowl in the centre. With a snap of his fingers, the pewter bowl cracked in two and smoke erupted from the pieces that were split in twain.

“ Oi, wolfie.” The trenchcoated man recoiled briefly as the wolf-man snarled, hackles raised again. “ You mind taking a sniff?”

The wolf-man lumbered forward and took a deep draught of the crim-coloured smoke.

“ I smell……baobab against skin……powdered sugar…beignets……seawater……..gunpowder and blood…….the stink of split blood against leather whips….”

“ Well, anyone up for a trip to the Crescent City?,” The trenchcoated man asked.

“ Hell seems as good a place as any to start…” The french swordswoman said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

The midnight sky began to purple as dawn fiunally arrived and stretched their shadows, six in total, as they lengthened across the asphalt strip of the Vegas Boulevard into the barren desert beyond.......

Moved my character over to another sheet and changed the Earth the Shadowpact is in from Earth Prime to another Earth.
C H A R A C T E R C O N C E P T P R O P O S A L


♦ M A G I C A L M I S F I T S ♦ L O R D S O F B A L A N C E ♦ E A R T H 97393745
W H A T I F T H E P H A N T O M S T R A N G E R W A S M I S S I N G?:



For aeons, the Phantom Stranger, emissary of the Spectre and keeper of all, has watched over the garden of the Maker. His silent vigil is endless and without rest, for he sees all and watches all, wandering across all of existence to perform his duty. It is his unending watch that keeps the realm of mortals at peace and his tireless actions which prevent the scales from tipping too far out of balance.

Now, he is missing.

Those on the mortal plane would not notice his presence but those who traverse the other side can feel his absence. The cold winds in the alley. The lengthening of the shadows. The growing silence. Without his gaze, the cosmos begins to unravel.

Left with no other options, Madame Xanadu has had to peer deep into her blackest ledger to find six individuals capable of undertaking a cause, deemed hopelessly lost to most…

That’s where they come in… The Shadow Pact.

Six heavy debts. Six misfit souls. Six months to rebalance the scales.

A tatterdemelion without a cause.

A spirit of vengeance.

A sword wielding dreamer of the past.

A damned beast.

A man of destiny.

A child of the black moon.

In short, we’re all fucked.

P L O T ( S ) & G O A L ( S ):

Think ‘Suicide Squad’ meets ‘Justice League Dark’. Me and @Abstract Proxywant to create something pretty wonky and this feels like the right environment to do it in. We’re mixing in several magical characters from both DC and Marvel into some weird-ass cocktail you find in a seedy little bar at 1 AM and hoping that it works out for the worst (in all the best ways).

The main beat of the starting storyline is that the Phantom Stranger is missing. How and why you might ask? Well, that’s what this cast of characters have to find out as they have to learn to work together and discover that the real Phantom Stranger was the friends they made along the way.

C H A R A C T E R N O T E S:

Shadowpact Members

- Ragwoman (Abstract Proxy)
- Ghost Rider//Johnathon Blaze (Bork Lazer)
- Guillotine//Jeannine Sauvage (Abstract Proxy)
- Werewolf By Night//Bigby Russell (Bork Lazer)
- Doctor Occult//Tim Hunter (Bork Lazer)
- Sister Grimm//Nico Minoru (Abstract Proxy)

P O S T C A T A L O G:

N/A
I’ll let @Abstract Proxy answer that one. I prefer to think it’s just a gender swap but alas, the character is their own to shape.
C H A R A C T E R C O N C E P T P R O P O S A L


♦ M A G I C A L M I S F I T S ♦ L O R D S O F B A L A N C E ♦ E A R T H 97393745
W H A T I F T H E P H A N T O M S T R A N G E R W A S M I S S I N G?:



For aeons, the Phantom Stranger, emissary of the Spectre and keeper of all, has watched over the garden of the Maker. His silent vigil is endless and without rest, for he sees all and watches all, wandering across all of existence to perform his duty. It is his unending watch that keeps the realm of mortals at peace and his tireless actions which prevent the scales from tipping too far out of balance.

Now, he is missing.

Those on the mortal plane would not notice his presence but those who traverse the other side can feel his absence. The cold winds in the alley. The lengthening of the shadows. The growing silence. Without his gaze, the cosmos begins to unravel.

Left with no other options, Madame Xanadu has had to peer deep into her blackest ledger to find six individuals capable of undertaking a cause, deemed hopelessly lost to most…

That’s where they come in… The Shadow Pact.

Six heavy debts. Six misfit souls. Six months to rebalance the scales.

A tatterdemelion without a cause.

A spirit of vengeance.

A sword wielding dreamer of the past.

A damned beast.

A man of destiny.

A child of the black moon.

In short, we’re all fucked.

P L O T ( S ) & G O A L ( S ):

Think ‘Suicide Squad’ meets ‘Justice League Dark’. Me and @Abstract Proxywant to create something pretty wonky and this feels like the right environment to do it in. We’re mixing in several magical characters from both DC and Marvel into some weird-ass cocktail you find in a seedy little bar at 1 AM and hoping that it works out for the worst (in all the best ways).

The main beat of the starting storyline is that the Phantom Stranger is missing. How and why you might ask? Well, that’s what this cast of characters have to find out as they have to learn to work together and discover that the real Phantom Stranger was the friends they made along the way.

C H A R A C T E R N O T E S:

Shadowpact Members

- Ragwoman (Abstract Proxy)
- Ghost Rider//Johnathon Blaze (Bork Lazer)
- Guillotine//Jeannine Sauvage (Abstract Proxy)
- Werewolf By Night//Bigby Russell (Bork Lazer)
- Doctor Occult//Tim Hunter (Bork Lazer)
- Sister Grimm//Nico Minoru (Abstract Proxy)

P O S T C A T A L O G:

N/A

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