3, 1: What Has Gone Before
Come gather round, you mares and fillies, and you two-legs, too, although you cannot hear the sense in my talking, which is done in the way of horses, and not the wordy way of the two-leg kind.
This story is not about me. That’s a pity, for I am a blood-sweating stallion and I am fourteen hundred summers old, which isn’t something that many horses can say. Nevertheless, I thought that I would explain some things in way of introduction, because it is about some of the brave young colts and sweet fillies of my herd, and though I am by nature a very proud horse, these young ones fill my heart ‘till is near to bursting. So prick your ears as though you heard the hooves of a long-lost friend coming cantering up the drive, and don’t make me come over and nip your flanks!
Long ago, when I was only two years old, I was brought from uttermost West to the court of the House of Liu in the city of Xi’an in the province of Shaanxi, which you young ones will know as the Tang Dynasty. I was a gift to an emperor, but he was not much of a man, and instead I met a girl, the kind who loved horses and was loved by horses. This is not her story, either, but the herd is as much hers as it is mine. I’m sure you’ve known a mare like that, lads? No need to roll your eyes at me like that, ladies. I’m a stallion of fourteen hundred summers.
The girl, though I loved her, was of the two-legged kind, and there were things that two-legged boys could give her that I could not, like the sweet taste of a kiss on a rainy spring afternoon, when the grass smells as rich as the sky is blue. And so she went with him, and I, who was coming into my own (Did I mention that I am a stallion of fourteen hundred summers? There is magic in that that I cannot explain unless your hooves have thundered on the meadows that I have galloped), retired to a place.
The affair, I am told, ended badly. Some stallions will nurture a herd, and some will sneak into it in the middle of the night and break a heart. I’ve no truck for the latter, and I imagine that it was such a lad that did my girl wrong. I don’t know that, of course. Perhaps he was simply a fool, or perhaps there was some greensick tragedy of that spring so long ago. So the girl went to a nunnery, and applied herself to the wisdom of the Great West and slowed down her life in meditation so that she would live to see the Maitreya bring the Pure Land, or so some would have it in the words-talk of the two-legged kind.
Now, the world in which she lived was not always a good one. There were evil sorcerors, and, eventually, meddling South Sea foreigners who came to the Middle Kingdom and brought it low in their urge to tinker with the certain things. In the twentieth century, counting from the days of some old teacher from the Hui-Lands, there rose amongst the Germans of the distant forests and marshes a dynasty called the Nazis, whose urge to tinker was terrible indeed.
Out of that tinkering came what the two-legs called the “Age of Superheroes,” masked folk (usually) with unusual powers. They fought evil. I’m not one to comment on the nature of that tinkering, since although I know it perfectly well in my bones, I am no master of the word-talking way, but I do know that the tinkering opened up the world in more ways than you can probably imagine. There are superheroes who use magic, and others who are masters of the martial arts. There are aliens and mutants and time travellers and folk from other dimensions, and ones who can make the ordinary tools of the two-legged folk do things that look like magic. In some ways, this age, this world, is like the biggest pasture ever on a beautiful morning, where you can gallop as far as you can imagine in any direction, and when you come to the end of your imagination, the meadow still stretches on before. In other ways, it is a frightening place, full of terrible wolves and deadly lions and tigers who won’t be crouching for very much longer.
In the city of Philadelphia in the country called the United States in the days when the Nazis first opened the barn door onto that infinite meadow, there was already a costumed crimefighter, of the kind they had in those days, who called himself the Hobgoblin. Haunted by a tragedy that I could explain, if only I had all day, he fought crime from autogiros and roadsters and with an automatic pistol in each hand. When the Nazis opened that door, one of the first things through was an honest-to-the-Buddha army of aliens in mighty tripods armed with heat rays and poison gas came that came stalking through the city on their way to Washington. The Hobgoblin, whom I would almost call a stallion, despite being of the two-legged breed, rallied to the defence of his city. Beside him, he found a group of other Philadelphia superheroes, and after the aliens were defeated, when other tigers sprang up, he rallied them, and, because he was an American, he called them the “Liberty Legion.”
in the eighth decade of the twentieth century (which, I will remind you, if you cannot count, as I surely cannot count, was called the “Seventies,” the Liberty Legion was still going on, still being led by an aging Hobgoblin. There comes a day, though, when the blanket must fall on a younger neck, and the Hobgobllin nurtured young men of talent. One of those was of the Celestial race, although the bonds that connected him with the Gold Mountain Land of America were old and strong. He called himself the Furious Fist, although his given name was Wong Ng Le –Henry Wong. Henry was, and is, a Master of Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu, but the secrets of that ancient and honourable art were not only his, for Henry’s evil uncle, Kwan, had used spies and agents to steal them from the monastery, and used them in the service of a sorcerer out of Tang days of old: the hideous (I refer to the stain upon his soul) Yin Wu.
Kwan, who breathed treachery like another man would breathe the delicious smells that come off the two-legs’ cookpots now and and then, used the resources of Yin Wu to pursue his own agenda. He wanted to kill his nephew, and inherit the pastures that came down to his nephew from their ancestors. And, no, I do not know what makes that pasture so special, although it is a very nice pasture, and consider for a moment the thought that I might lie about a thing like that.
One of the resources, in case you think that I have wandered down a trail into some thicket in which you cannot turn round without scratching your flanks to ribbons, was the girl. Yin Wu called her up out of her ancient monastery, and persuaded her to turn her magic to Yin Wu’s ends. It is a mistake I can scarce credit even after all these years, but to give her some credit, there was a prophecy involved, that instead of living to see the Maitreya, she would live to hold a grandchild in her arms if she went down this road.
The girl, and Kwan, fought the Furious Fist, and the Liberty Legion, and it ended as you might expect, with Kwan dead and Henry Wong walking across the threshold of his new home with his girl in his arms. Stamp your hooves if you approve! Of course, it did not end there. Kwan was raised from the dead to serve an even older and more evil master, the Undying King, King of Ivory, Takofanes the Lich Lord, at whose tread the very dust of the earth cried out when it felt his feet again after 70,000 years.
As for the girl, and Henry Wong, they had six children. Meanwhile, the Liberty Legion was disbanded, in 1984, as two-legs count years, and was replaced by the Liberty League, which seems like the kind of inconsequential change that only mares would care about.
Why are you looking at me like that again? I was only joking. There were quite significant changes. The Liberty League has a splendid headquarters in downtown Philadelphia, while the old Liberty Legion used to operated out of the basement of the Hobgoblin’s mansion, and, when they needed room to store spaceships and computers and alien superweapons and whatnot, they dug deep beneath the West Philadelphia neighbourhood that had spread out around the Hobgoblin’s old family patent, from the days before the American Revolution.
The Liberty Legion had secrets it could not share. In time, they were not just secrets about the things that the headquarters were hiding, or the secret identity of the Hobgoblin. (Doctor Anthony McNeely, if you were wondering.) Ihad a shopping mall built over the headquarters to conceal it, and extended its tendrils under a high school. Teachers and CEOs were drawn into its secrets, as old members of the Legion grew old and took up careers and had children. Those secrets had to be kept buried, to protect the children, if nothing else.
As the 1990s wore on, it became clear that this would be very hard, because the children –and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and the alien other-dimensional clones and robot wards from the 31st Century-- were developing superpowers of their own. The Legion might be gone, but the school under which they had dug their tunnels was still there. In a secret annex, in the year 1997, Tatammy High held its first classes in the “superpower stream.” Needless to say, the eldest Wong son was a member of that first class. So was one of the Hobgoblin’s grandsons.
Today, on the first day of the July long weekend of 2012, the Wongs are almost finished with Tatammy’s school. Henry, their second son, has finished his college and is entering the second year of law school at Stanford, far away near San Francisco in California. His sister, Jenny, is entering second year in the same city, studying to be a veterinarian. They are both engaged to be married in the spring of next year. Henry will marry Juanita Guzman, who is the daughter of the principal of Tatammy High, who is, in turn, an old comrade-in-arms of the Furious Fist in his guise as the super-luchador, El Professore. Jenny will marry Brad Neilsen, who is Juanita’s cousin, and, like her, the grandchild of Der Nodsfyr (Notsfeuer, I am told, if you are not pronouncing it in Bavarian). The next girl, May, will be graduating next year, while the youngest two, the twins, Amy and Jason, are entering Grade 10.
For a while, it seemed that the girl’s house would ring empty as, one by one, her children left. Instead, it now has even more students in it. For, long ago and for his own reasons, Kwan had children of his own, Henry Wong’s nephew and niece, Christopher and Charlotte and taught them the ways of Eight Spirit Dragon Kung Fu. (Well, technically, they are his cousins, but never mind.) Even Kwan, however, did not know that they were the heirs of might swords that had been born against the hosts of Takofanes, in the last days of the Old Red Age, when the lich lord was brought down the first time. Fearing that the children, the art, and the swords would fall into evil hands when Kwan died, arrangements were made.
Being superheroes, the arrangements were made. An old member of the Legion, Miriam Crudup, the Black Cat, had a time machine. Not just a normal, run-of-the-mill time machine, either, a most puissant one, which she lends to people for good causes. One of those causes became the rescue of Christopher and Charlotte, who were brought from 1975 up to the last month of 2011 to be fostered in their aunt’s house. Christopher promptly got involved with a teenaged supervillain, Morning Glory, also known as Kumi Konoye, who was trying to infiltrate Tatammy High under the leadership of the somewhat crazed Professor Paradigm, hoping to find out what had happened to her father. What neither of them knew was that everyone was manipulating the Professor, including, most dangerously, an ancient, evil, and mysterious entity that, even today, I can only call “Fang.” (Not that I am necessarily telling you everything that I know, just everything that I am allowed to tell you.)
At a school dance thrown at a hall in the Evening Land, the lustrous dimension of Lythrum, Fang made his move, and was stopped, but not without cost. The school board had to grant Professor Paradigm an amnesty for his cooperation, only to discover, to their dismay, that he was disguised as the new drama teacher at Tatammy, and that under union rules, they were now not allowed to fire him. In the struggle, Kumi’s secrets were revealed, and she joined the “superhero stream,” but there was also a defection.
Charlotte, wielding the Pearl Harmony Sword, played a small part in all of this, mainly, as Kumi nicknamed her, as a “Tagalong.” She and her friends were students, not at Tatammy, but at a nearby middle school that fed Tatammy. Those friends are, first, Dora Guzman, the principal’s youngest daughter, who is bonded through a mysterious force called the needfire with a being from the other end of space and time called the Maid of Gold. Dora mostly flies and fires energy blasts with a golden aura, as far as I can tell. Second, there is Rose Eley, a girl from a postapocalyptic alternate future, who was sent back in time to prevent the Apocalypse Plague from bringing her terrible world into existence, but who is now conflicted about what meddling with time would mean to the innocent people of that future. She is very fast (very fast) and can talk to computers with her mind, or something like that. I am not very interested in computers, but apparently this is a useful thing to be able to do. Third, there is the one boy tagging along with three girls, the youngest grandson of the Hobgoblin, a goofy young lad named Bruce, who is cursed, like all of his family, to be good at everything. I am not clear just why that is a curse, but we do know that this is a genetic, or, rather, “metagenetic” trait, in which Fang is very interested.
Metagenetics, by the way, is a hidden kind of inheritance, buried in patterns of genes, rather than individual ones. Fang, apparently, is very interested in certain metagenetic lineages, most especially the ones exhibited by a retired member of the Sentinels named Archon. Don’t ask me why, because I cannot tell you. He has arranged, through the malevolent master of genetics, Teleios, to have Archon cloned many times over, although the clones are terminated before their powers express themselves.
Which brings me to the Tatammy “Drama Club.” At the moment, there are eight students in the club (not counting some Special Needs kids who help with scenery and such). It is sponsored, as I have said, by Professor Paradigm in his secret identity, Phileas Burcato. Some students, such as Mario Burcato are also members of the Professor’s supervillain henchman team, the Paradigm Pirates. Other members of the Pirates are either not members of the Drama Club, or are involved in their secret identity. By the way, if you are wondering, Mario is supposedly the professor’s nephew. In fact he is a clone of Archon.
I fear that Fang’s attention is not off us yet.
I mention Paradigm and his motley lot because on this beautiful summer day, when Charlotte and her friends and her cousins and her brother and his girlfriend and her Auntie Ma (which, just in case you thought I was trying to be mysterious, is what Charlotte calls the girl who was my first mistress so long ago) got into two SUVs and drove west to spend the weekend in the Wong’s beautiful vacation cottage in the LeHigh Valley of central Pennsylvania, Burcato was very carefully shadowing them in his minivan. He is good at these things, as befits a dimension traveller, but I am a stallion of fourteen hundred summers (did I mention that?). Unfortunately, even I cannot tell you who is in the minivan with Professor Paradigm with my eyes that see. Perhaps I know by other means, but you will have to learn on your own.
As I speak to you today, on this first glorious summer day of the school vacation, Charlotte is getting ready to enter Tatammy in September. Little does she know how much else will happen in the next two months. Me? Of course I know. I am a stallion of fourteen hundred summers, and I have ridden meadows you cannot imagine.