Gary the Miracle Boy walked the airfield impatiently. The Blackhawk plane used to deliver the Sentinels of Magic was on the horizon. The twelve-year-old psychic watched it descend with his ice blue eyes as it came to halt gently on the airstrip and taxi out of the way.
The boy waited impatiently for a fuel truck to roll out and refuel the plane. As far as he could see, only the pilots of the arrived plane were moving on the strip. He searched for the ground crew, since the guys needed that plane back in the air as soon as possible. He found the mechanics playing cards in the main hangar.
“Excuse me, but when will my flight leave for the island?” he asked, feigning innocence.
“I don’t know, kid,” said Purcell, the chief mechanic, who was trying to fill a deadman’s hand. “Everything is grounded until the C.O. says otherwise.”
“I don’t understand,” said Gary. “The Sentinels are going to need to be picked up if they’re in over their heads.”
“Tell me about it,” said Purcell, pulling an eight into his hand. “Major Valdemir grounded everything that was supposed to be flying out of here.”
“I see,” said Gary. Leaving the mechanics, he headed for the headquarters. Anger raged through his system as he walked, causing rocks, loose dirt, small objects, and just about anything not nailed down to be thrown at random from his path. How could this man Valdemir start an investigation and then shut the door on his own people? That didn’t make sense. It’s almost as if he doesn’t expect them to return, thought Gary.
He began to jog toward the building. Something rotten was going on here.
On Grim Island, Harry Hutchinson paused when he saw what was happening in the middle of the island foliage. A circular hole was forming in the ground, swallowing up the surrounding forests. The earthen whirlpool grew rapidly with every piece of ground swallowed.
“What’s going on?” asked the Black Star, forcing a calm he didn’t feel. He especially didn’t like the way Harvard Yale and Johnny Constantine were sharing looks.
“It’s a hole to Hell,” Constantine finally said, a bit bluntly.
“We have to close this somehow,” said Doc Yale.
“Quick,” said Constantine, nodding.
Something then erupted from the whirlpool. Harry didn’t know what it was, nor did he care. It flew right at him, spitting something corrosive. The Black Star activated his power, absorbing the spit and then the creature itself as it tried to grapple with him.
More of the monsters flowed from the pit, and something that glowed was following them. He heard Hal yell, “Crom!” as he stepped back from the expanding pit for better footing.
He also heard Constantine chant something in some forgotten language. Something with too many eyes and about thirty tentacles exploded in a ball of flame.
Hal King could not quite get over the feeling he got from using his dial to let loose a hero straight out of the pulps or the comic-books into the real world. It was like being two men in the same body. On the one hand, he ordinarily knew nothing of fighting skills. On the other, the hawk-man he had become was slicing and dicing like a musketeer.
Everywhere he cut, something was wounded. Some were more fatally wounded than others. He frowned at what appeared as a glowing hand erupting from the expanding pit, flinging the monsters from its body as it sought the real world.
Flying clear of the rioting flyers to get a better look, Hal could see a gigantic arm trying to follow the hand into the open air. He also saw Constantine and Doc trying to shut the portal. Number 99 was defending them with hammering blows from his treelike arms and blunt fists.
Hal cut a swath with his sword over his three teammates. The others seemed to be doing well enough on their own. The Black Star absorbed anything coming too close to him in flickering strobe as he moved to grab and trap the attacking monsters. The Stainless Steel Cat cut his enemies with a lightning quickness, pouncing, stabbing, or slashing violently, then sizing up his next victim and pouncing again.
Mac Maine didn’t feel like he was doing well. He felt surrounded by the beasts, and he couldn’t get clear to get room to work. He pressed a sequence to send a dozen morning-star-like projectiles at his foes. The strange shotgun blast dropped some of the monsters back in the pit. He pressed the repeat key again and again.
Finally, he had some clear space to move. He decided to join Doc’s group for the safety in numbers. He used the repeat key to make some room for him to take up one side.
Mac didn’t like the way his generator was whining at him. The last thing he needed was an overheat and an emergency shutdown. Mac fired a carpet of spikes as Number 99 swatted something through a tree. Let them charge across that, he thought as he dialed his morning-star sequence again.
Gary the Miracle Boy paused at the commanding officer’s door. The officer, Major Henry Valdemir, and the captain from the briefing were talking. The mascot listened before charging in. He didn’t like what he heard.
“All the planes are grounded as ordered, sir,” said Captain Richard Exeter. “The Sentinels can’t be pulled out of Grim Island before they’re killed.”
“Good,” said Major Valdemir. “Make sure the boy is taken care of, and my plan will be complete.”
“Yes, sir,” said Captain Exeter, who then turned to leave the room, but instead fell to the floor, as if his strings had been cut by some unseen force.
“Why don’t you take care of me yourself?” Gary angrily demanded.
Henry Valdemir smiled. “The cub roars,” he said mockingly. One of the major’s hands came up, scribbling his fingers in the air. Suddenly, a magenta roar swept across the room. Gary raised his arm in a blocking motion, and the beam flattened out before a narrow dagger stabbed Gary’s left eye into a black ruin. The boy fell to the floor with a scream.
“Time to die, cub,” Valdemir said, coming from behind his desk to stand over the boy psychic. “First you and then your precious Sentinels of Magic… you’ll all die as easily as when I killed your dear mom and dad.”
Gary lay on the floor, one hand covering his destroyed left eye, while the other lay by his side. His one good eye glared at the traitor standing over him with a white-hot fury, barely understanding what the man was saying but filled with more rage than he’d ever known. The boy brought his lax hand up, closing it in a fist. His power leaped forth ravenously.
Henry Valdemir tried to shield himself from the attack with a magical ward. He would realize only much later that his instinctive gesture would cause him to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Still, it had kept him alive as every bone in his body shattered, and blood vessels, mostly capillaries, split apart under the blow. Half of his hair was ripped from his head as one eye almost ruptured, and then it was gone.
Valdemir fell to the floor, only kept alive by the ward he had generated.
A giant continued to force its way out of the spreading pit in the middle of Grim Island. Demonic forms split themselves from its glowing skin to continue to battle the Sentinels of Magic.
The first to die was Roland DiGrasso, the man known as the Stainless Steel Cat.
The Cat sliced his way through the horde with diamond-hard claws, cutting one in half and turning to deal with another one to his right. But the one he had cut in half took that moment to wrap itself around his legs, bringing him down. The surrounding demons then fell on the silent Roland, crumpling and snapping his armor into sections, then breaking his claws. Finally, something stomped down on his helmeted head, crushing the skull underneath.
The assembled crowd hurrahed in achievement. Then a barrage of morning-stars cut through them as Mac Maine pressed his repeat key angrily. His eyes watered at the loss of his friend, but he forced himself to concentrate on the job.
The giant reached out with one hand for the ones trying to close his gate. The spell being cast by the human with yellow hair who wore the strange-looking cloak must not be completed, it realized. Something bit it in the leg. It glanced down at the annoyance, frowning at what it saw.
The human that absorbed substances had somehow attached himself to the giant’s leg. The Black Star was cutting into the upper thigh of the emerging demon with his ability.
The giant grabbed the bothersome human, but parts of his hand was dissolved as he seized the human at both ends and pulled him apart into two pieces. He dropped the fragments of Harry Hutchinson’s body, bleeding monsters as he turned his attention on his primary objective.
He would stride upon the earth once more.
Hal King felt the familiar tingle of power loss. Flying clear of the fighting area, he landed gently before his power faded completely. He reached for the dial, hoping it would work again despite its known limitations so he could get back into the fight. The others needed him to get back as someone with a lot more going for him than a flying barbarian.
That was when he felt a sudden stabbing in his back. He tried to turn, but he found that he was frozen in place. Looking down, he saw that his feet were no longer on the ground. As he stared, a thing resembling a scorpion’s stinger erupted from his chest. The grass and trees were stained by his blood as he slowly died.
Then Hal King’s body was ripped apart and eaten by the surrounding monsters while it was still warm. The dial that he had used for the last seven years was discarded as useless. None of his friends saw him fall. Only the evidence of the bloody grass would show where he had fallen, trying to protect humanity. He would not be the only one to have an empty grave as the battle came to its inevitable end.
Johnny Constantine wished he had said goodbye to his wife and boy. He wished he had been more of a father than he had been. He wished for lots of things before he finished the closing lines of his spell and turned his regret to a resolve to win at any price.
Concluding the spell, he cut the palm of his hand with a dagger for the blood sacrifice involved. Luckily for them, Harvard Yale had known of something that would work.
“Goodbye, love,” Constantine said as the blood raced from the wound in his hand in a whirling ring around the pit. “Goodbye, son.”
Constantine hadn’t noticed that Harvard Yale had cut his own hand with a pocket knife in almost the same way. Their blood became a ring of glorious light pushing against the void, fighting a losing battle to drive the monster back into the ground.
Mac Maine scanned the battlefield in a panic as his generator screamed for mercy. Only he and Number 99 were the last Sentinels standing. Worse, that thing wasn’t going back in its hole like it should.
Taking a deep breath, Mac felt like he was losing his mind at the decision he was making, but it was a simple equation. The hole needed to be closed to keep these things from escaping into the world, or something much worse than anything they’d seen during the war would happen. As long as that thing was trying to get out, the hole wouldn’t close. Something had to be done to clear the opening.
Mac knew what he was doing was crazy, but he also knew his duty. Pushing the self-destruct key on his pad, he then dived into the pit with his eyes closed.
Number 99 howled in pain. In his rage and loss, he managed to tap into something that he had never thought of before.
Suddenly, the strange swamp monster that was normally nine feet tall had grown to thirty feet tall, and every smaller thing within reach died as he charged the monster in the pit. He flung himself on the startled giant, relentlessly smashing down with crushing fists. The demon tried to hurl 99 away, but the earth elemental would not be denied as it swung again and again with all of its might.
The lesser creatures didn’t know which was screaming more, the giant from below that was finally hurting as it had never been hurt before, or the humanoid avalanche swinging with cracking tree trunk fists, bringing everything to bear that it could.
Something rumbled deep in the ground. Then a flash of light and a wave of heat turned the two fighters into drifting dust, as if an atomic bomb had been detonated.
The glowing ring drew the survivors back into the closing portal, dragging them below. When everything looked normal again, it dispersed into the ether as a sheet of white became a white cross in a circle burned into the ground where the pit had once existed.
Gary the Miracle Boy would arrive on Grim Island hours later. The medics had tried to confine him to the hospital because of the damage done to his left eye, and even Major Valdemir’s obvious guilt was called into question. They began making a list of things they wanted from him.
Finally, Gary threatened to kill anyone who got in his way if he wasn’t on the next plane to Grim Island. Chuck, the sympathetic Blackhawk pilot, let him sit up front in the cockpit as he flew him there.
The boy’s hand strayed to his face. It was an effort to keep the pain back. He needed to reach the last place the Sentinels of Magic had been seen alive. Not even a destroyed eyeball was going to keep him from his goal, even if that meant he would never find out what Valdemir had meant about killing his parents. The people at the orphanage he grew up in had simply told him that his parents had died when he was two years old; he’d never found out more than that, and it looked like now he never would.
Chuck landed the plane on the surface of the ocean just offshore, and Gary rushed to the hatch and opened it. Then, stepping on the pontoon under the plane’s body, he ran across the water to the beach.
The American member of the Blackhawks followed at a slower pace. The overflight he had done had convinced him that any danger was over. Besides, he wanted to give the boy some privacy at the moment.
Gary reached the scene of the battle in a rush, then staggered to a halt. The carnage made him sit down. He picked up the book Doc had always carried with him; it lay beside Harvard Yale’s body where it had fallen out of his pocket when he had died.
The boy sat like that for a long time.
A lot of changes took place on Grim Island after that final battle. A lot of changes also took place inside the boy who became the island’s master. Some were for the better, while others weren’t.
Gary remembered having to tell Mrs. Constantine and her son Thomas that their husband and father wouldn’t be coming home again, because he wouldn’t let someone from the army do it.
Every day he walked to the memorial park he had built. He looked at the statues there and remembered the people who had taken him in as an orphan and had taught him the meaning of sacrifice. But he could be Gary the Miracle Boy no longer, for he had failed his team.
Sometimes, Gareth Gallowglass — for that was his real name — wondered when the guilt of not being there when the Sentinels of Magic had needed him would go away.