Since Prime War is officially cancelled, I figured I'd let you all see what I was cooking up for an eventual "Return to Miststorm" expansion. This was never evaluated by >G, and started as a framing device for me to pitch some characters/moments that would be integrated into the story of Prime War at a later date, but grew to be more full than I expected. It was intended to be a comic that showed what the MistStorm characters had been through, up against a situation with no apparent solution. It's a little depressing, so no harm if you don't want to go down this rabbit hole with me. It's also a little long, and I've never been great at formatting on the forums. My apologies, and thanks for reading!
“It’s not going to hold much longer”
“Are you going to tell them?”
Lillian looked over the people around her, watching them huddle in small groups. Some were talking gently with each other, most were exchanging whispers, no small amount were simply holding each other in tight embraces, and one group was breaking out into laughter...
Lillian walked over to the small knot of people, one hand in the air. There were familiar faces here, but few she knew well.
“Ah! Our mistress of magic, please join us. Surely we’ve never been treated to such a spectacular sunset as you grace us with today.”
Sunset? Lillian hadn’t been keeping track of the time. How could she, at this point?
“Hush, Frost. You picked up too much flowery speech with that book club you and Meredith had.” The former soldier raised a glass as he mentioned Lillian’s cousin. "He’s just glad everyone else is as miserable as he’s always been.”
“On the contrary, I’m sad that everyone else has to be as trapped as I’ve been. I’m just now sharing the way I’ve found best to cope with this particular malaise.” Ryan stood up in his stark white suit and raised a glass to those nearby, nodding to Lillian. “By remembering those who went before us. They did their jobs with smiles on their faces, it’s only right we wear those smiles for them.”
Lillian aknowledged his toast and switched her arms (her strength might give out before the magic did), walking towards another group. As she left, she heard Tyler start to recount how Pauline had saved him. “So we’re securing this batch of refugees, and Pauline asks me if I’ve ever tried deploying energy weapons in a broad-spread configuration to try and burn off the mists. Well, that got me thinking…”
She started to walk a little faster. She couldn’t relive that particular memory again. It was becoming too painful.
“The seed bank is down. I’m not getting anything from Pete and Amanda.”
Lillian felt like she had been kicked in the stomach. She collapsed onto one of the booths, momentarily dropping her arm, causing the wards to shimmer and fade slightly. She quickly regained her composure, reinforcing the shielding before the mists could creep in. They’d learned the hard way that any small wisp would be the size of a car within minutes.
She knew that their best hope at surviving this was in one of their last bubbles, but she also started to suspect that none of it may matter. She walked over to Ivan, who was working hard on his device, and stood there, not wanting to break his concentration.
“I can feel you hovering over there, Miss Corvus, do you have some news for me?”
“Vanessa says the seed bank is down. It looks like we’re on the next contingency.”
“That’s… unfortunate.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, his other arm still tinkering of its own accord. “I’ll prep the Legacy once we finish this iteration of the device. I’ve almost got the scale right, and Omega site says it can produce the full-sized versions as soon as we verify it works.”
Curious that he named their last resort after his nemesis... She made a mental note to ask about how his last encounter with Paul had gone as soon as they were out of this predicament. He had arrived all by himself, armor suit scarred and smoking, clutching a blue cape, swearing vehemently in multiple languages. That had been a couple of weeks ago now by her reckoning, and she was beginning to think Paul wouldn’t be making it to them.
“The Court has gone silent, Lillian, and Zhu Long has begun his Ritual. I’ll probably be in and out trying to help Michael for the next hour or so.”
If Michael and Akash’Darsha needed Vanessa’s help to seal their refuge, the end might be coming faster than she had anticipated. Lillian walked to the edge of her wards, looking out at their incessant, implacable foe. She felt a rumble through the ground as she felt something push against her wards. A blue bubble appeared outside the barrier just off to her left, framing a large bus with pink and blue streaks running down the sides and a very loud PA system. “Ding-dong! The Armageddon express is arriving now at platform seven; all passengers are kindly requested to keep their arms, legs, and appendages inside the hamster ball until we enter Lillian’s Luxury Lounge and Resort!” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing, much less seeing; she hadn’t heard from Miranda in months, and here she was with refugees? “How’s about it, Miss Corvus?” Jackson’s gruff head poked out from the driver’s window. “Do you have room in your bubble for a few more?”
“We came from Omega site, Tagorath asked us to take some of the people that had gathered there. Devra and Omega helped us improve our ride, which they insisted we call the All-Dread-naught.” Jackson shrugged as Lillian gave a wry chuckle. “Yeah, her jokes are always either three layers deep, or an inside joke for someone I’ve never met. Anyway, it felt nice to be useful again, and Miranda is always more… present when helping others.”
“Right. How is she doing with her...” Lillian hesitated, looking for a delicate way to refer to Miranda’s mental passenger, “...roomate? I heard that she and Vanessa agreed it was best if Vanessa didn’t try to help too much to prevent unlocking some of her latent nightmares.”
That was putting it mildly. Lillian had reports that Vanessa’s attempt to assist Miranda in controlling her dark side had resulted in gigantic demonic clowns that leveled a considerable patch of the Rockies.
The big man took out a long knife that looked to have some permanent marker scrawled along the blade and looked at it forlornly. “She’s determined to be a hero in the end, no matter the cost. She’s seen too many others give more than they ever thought possible to demand anything less of herself.” He looked around at the wards, asking, “Hey, are we safe here for a while? I think I need to get some stuff off of my chest before… I lose the opportunity.”
Lillian nodded, “I’ll try to give you all the time you need, Jackson.” She started to walk away before realizing she recognized that signature from what seemed like a lifetime ago; she stopped and put her hand on Jackson’s shoulder. “You might have been the closest thing Ansel had to a friend for a long while. I’m sure he’s proud you’ve made it this far. Tyler has a few cold ones with no questions asked if you want to reminisce for a while.” Jackson nodded once and took a deep breath. As she left, she was glad she could give him this much, a space to grieve after all the loss he had suffered.
“The Citadel seems to have moved, and I can’t pinpoint their new location. They look like they lost a few people, but I’ll be damned if Dawn won’t be the last of us to drop, just out of sheer willpower and arrogance.”
Lillian almost upbraided Vanessa on her language, but decided against it, a small smile coming to her lips. She’d been much more naughty than the young psychic when she was Vanessa’s age, and the kid was keeping it cool in a situation that had most of the adults breaking down. The news about the Citadel was surprising, though. Vanessa’s contact with the Citadel had been spotty at best, with Dawn’s people accepting any information Vanessa would communicate, but rarely offering up the results of any of their own efforts. Lillian thanked Vanessa and continued her circuit of the camp, checking in with the different groups of refugees, making sure everyone had what they needed, and calming those that were worked up.
“Hi there! What are you doing?” A little girl came up to Lillian, twirling the end of a long braid in one hand, a small skip in her step.
Lillian, a bit taken aback by the girl’s cheery disposition, told her, “Well, I’m holding this shield up so the mist doesn’t get in. It’s what’s keeping all of us safe.”
“But why are you doing it?”
“Well sweetie, I’m a hero, and that’s what heroes do. We keep people safe.”
A frown grew over the girl’s face as she considered this answer. “I don’t think that’s the right answer. I think that’s the wrong thing for you to say.” She flipped the braid behind her, walking towards Ivan, who was looking over some designs for his Legacy device.
He had sent his prototype to Devra and Omega through Vanessa an hour ago, and was tinkering while he waited to hear back from their scaled-up deployment test. She thought the little girl would have a grand time getting whatever “right” answer she wanted from the super genius scientist, and knew that Ivan was more than capable of carrying on a conversation without affecting his work. It would be great to get some assistance with this shield and maybe start pushing back against the mists a little. It had been so very long since she had cast the spell that was protecting them all, and to say she was beginning to feel the effects would be an understatement.
She was exhausted.
“Aleksandr is starting to fall away, one by one, and the experience is starting to affect the remaining bodies. Zosimos is saying that his children in the Subcontinent and the Andes mountains are no longer responding. He won’t tell me where “he” is, but I’ll take what we can get.”
Vanessa’s mental message woke Lillian, and she sat up, trying to shake off the feeling of dread that had become a constant undercurrent. She checked her wards, noting that they had shrunk a couple of inches while she slept. Under normal circumstances, she would have been proud of the progress she had made in controlling her abilities to only lose such a small percentage of the original spell’s power; however, she could only see the shrinkage as the slow and steady ticking of a clock. What would happen if they couldn’t turn it back in time? She took her time reinstating her active control over the barrier, making sure she had a good firm grip on the entire thing, as she had done for more days than she wanted to think about.
Lillian walked up to Miranda to thank her for doing what she could to bolster the barricade while she slept. As she approached, she saw that Miranda was speaking to a girl with shoulder-length hair, who was seemingly comforting Miranda while the young telekinetic softly cried.
“I just asked her a question!” the girl turned to Lillian with a sad, scared look on her face, looking to be on the verge of tears herself. Lillian was surprised to recognize the little girl she had spoken to earlier, and started to lead her away as she waved Jackson over to check on Miranda.
“Adults aren’t supposed to be scared of questions, all I did was ask her a question just like I asked you!” The girl was trotting to keep up with Lillian’s pace, and seemed determined to have Lillian’s absolution for how she had agitated Miranda.
“It’s going to be okay. Miranda has just been through a lot lately, and she probably had a lot of other things on her mind. You can probably go talk to her again after a little while, if you still want to be her friend.” Lillian tried to lead the girl around to the closest refugees, hoping that someone would recognize and claim her; there were things she had to check up on today that didn’t involve escorting the kid around.
“I don’t think we’ll be friends, and that’s okay.” The girl nodded sagely, a look of wisdom on her face.
“Are you sure? Is that why you got your hair cut like her?” Lillian’s circuit of the survivors would bring her towards Tyler, maybe he would take her off her hands.
“I didn’t get my hair cut. You just think I did because you’re not paying attention, like most adults.” the girl sighed deeply and dramatically. “Do you have the right answer to the question I asked you before? Why are you doing this?”
Lillian stopped and looked at the girl for a long second, gathering her thoughts. She supposed there was a more accurate answer she could give the girl, if her curiosity was truly unsatisfied, although it was no less “right” in her mind. “Well, I know magic, and the magic I do is one of the only things that hold back the big scary mists out there that are hurting people. There are other heroes here, like Miranda over there, but I do this because there’s not really anyone else who can do this. Does that make sense?”
The girl got an indignant look on her face. “You don’t have to talk to me like I’m a little kid, I know more about magic and mists than you! I saw people die in those mists, but I’m not scared of them, because I have secret magic! And I still don’t think you gave me the right answer. I’ll leave you to your big, important adult stuff now…” She walked away with a huff, leaving Lillian to chuckle softly to herself at the girl’s emphatic declarations.
As she went to see how Ivan’s work was coming, she found herself envying the girl a little. It had been far too long since she hadn’t been scared of the mists.
“Ivan and Omega say this is the last attempt, one way or another.”
“Good to know, I’ll do one more round, check in on everyone.”
“Lillian?... I’m scared that it won’t work.”
“Well, we know that there’s a few others working on the problem, and—“
“No, Lillian, I’m scared none of them will work. What do I do when the rest of you are gone? I don’t know that I’m strong enough to let go by myself.”
Lillian reeled from the dread and terror that came through from the young psychic, sorrow building inside her. How long had she been trapped in that stasis, wrapped in a cocoon of energy? Young people were supposed to have the chance to grow up and do great things, and then this mist comes and takes everything this brilliant young hero could be and turns her into an empty shell, helping to keep all the little lights from going out. What could she do, once she was the last one flickering against the fog?
“Vanessa, I promise, I’ll stick around as long as I can. If it comes down to it, we’ll walk through that door together.”
“Thanks, Lillian. I’m glad we got to meet each other, here at the end.”
Lillian wiped tears from her cheeks as she sought the nearest group of refugees. She let them know that there was going to be another experiment, and to get ready to move if things worked out. They thanked her, and she began moving towards the next group.
“I think you’re almost ready to give me the right answer now, miss magics!”
The girl skipped up to Lillian, almost up to her shoulder. She must be very tired if she thought this girl was little earlier.
“Oh, am I now?” Lillian didn’t stop her walk around to the next cluster of refugees.
“Well, not now. But soon. Here, I’ll tell you a secret if you give me what you think is the best answer to my question. Remember, I can tell if you’re going to be condescending, so make sure it’s the whole answer.”
“FINE! You want to know why I am doing this?! It’s because I didn’t help Faye when she started this whole thing! I should have studied more, or concentrated longer, or gotten more help! She’d still be here, and none of this would’ve happened if I had been better!” Lillian realized that she’d been shouting, drawing the attention of multiple groups, and some of the other heroes were staring right at her. Most turned back to what they had been doing as Lillian felt an arm around her shoulder.
“Lillian, you know there was nothing you could do.” Maia had approached her, seemingly from thin air, and folded her into a hug. “We all cared for Faye, but when that thing came and brought utter devastation, we all did everything we could. She knew the only way out was to bring in more help, and she gave everything she could to make sure we all had a chance. She did what she had to do, and you did what you had to do. You can’t beat yourself up over it.”
Lillian sniffed and wiped tears from her face as she broke from Maia’s embrace. “I know… You’re right, I know.” She looked into Maia’s eyes and saw tears there too. She had forgotten that the former CEO had lost more than most when Oblivaeon visited its terrible destruction. “Thank you, Maia. That means more than you know.”
Maia squeezed her shoulder and walked to a group of refugees, trying to draw them into conversation and keep their spirits up.
“See? Even she knew that wasn’t the right answer!” The girl leaned close to Lillian conspiratorially, whispering. “I know you tried hard that time, though, so I’ll still tell you my secret. Their attempt at pushing back the mists won’t work. It’s actually going to be so bad that it’s going to bring them rushing in faster!”
Lillian rolled her eyes and sighed. Between Ivan and Omega, there was nothing smarter on the planet, and she and Tagorath had helped advise on safeguards they put in place to make sure there wasn’t a blowback.
“It’s starting!” She heard Ivan shout from his workspace. “Omega is pushing out units now. We should see the first ones any second.” Indeed, as he spoke, Lillian felt little tendrils of energy pushing around her wards, brushing against it in waves. She looked up and saw a small flock of drones, wrapped in magic and connected by some strange energy she couldn’t quite identify. The formation gave her the sensation of a large net, intended to disperse the mists into smaller pieces that could be contained or destroyed much easier. As the drones undulated about the wards, it looked like it was working. The immediate area around her magic was finally free of the pressure that had been crushing her for far too long.
She turned to the girl, “See, there’s nothing to be afraid of! They finally got a solution working, and we’re going to get this all sorted.”
The girl shook her head sadly and held up a hand, pointing to an area of her wards from which the mists hadn’t yet retreated. Lillian turned and stared in horror as she saw that the motion of the drones that were pushing the mists back elsewhere had churned them into a column that was building into a funnel shape.
“I told you my secret.”
Lillian braced herself as the Mist-tornado formed, whipping magic against her barrier with alarming ferocity.
“Secrets are True, otherwise they’re just rumors.”
The mists grew in strength, pounding the wards again and again.
“Secrets are really powerful, and none more so than those we keep from ourselves.”
Lillian heard Ivan shouting, felt Miranda trying to help bolster her protective energy.
“That’s why I need to know the right answer to my question.”
She was losing ground to the mists, and felt additional attacks from other tornadoes forming.
“I told you, I had Secret Magic. You just need to play along so I can help you.”
Lillian looked at the girl, incredulous. “What are you talking about?!”
“I just need the right answer, Lillian: Why are you doing this?”
She struggled under the sheer weight of the mist’s tremendous, crushing power, sweat dripping down her face. “I--”
“Yes?” The girl came close once more.
Lillian fell to her knees, straining against incalculable forces bent on her destruction.
“This can’t be the last thing she ever did.” She was openly weeping now, pushed to her breaking point here at the end of all things. “I can’t let her work that was supposed to help everyone be what destroys everything. She was better than that. She showed us we all could be better.”
“That,” the girl whispered, leaning her head against Lillian’s, “is definitely the right answer.”
“Lillian?! What’s happening???” Vanessa was frantic in her head.
The forces constricting Lillian’s wards grew ever stronger as she collapsed from the effort, waiting for the mists to finally come for her.
Lillian felt Nothing.
She opened her eyes and leapt to her feet, looking around her. She saw that everyone was right where they had been, just seconds ago. Everyone except that girl, who seemed to have disappeared, leaving a folded piece of paper on the ground. Lillian picked it up, and opened it to read:
“I know you think you were done. That’s what all of Them told me too. I’m going to let Them think that, and keep you as my Secrets. Just be careful not to wander off too far!”
The letter was signed --Veil in a flowery script.
As Lillian pondered this letter, she surveyed her surroundings once again, noticing for the first time that so many of those that were at the other “last bastions” of survivors were also here. She could even see Pete and Amanda running over to her! She began waving to them before noticing a look of terror on Pete’s face, his motions frantic and wild, pointing at the sky, and the ground off to the side of him.
The sky was gone, and there was nothing where Pete pointed but a sheer cliff that just ended a few feet down.