by Martin Maenza
Charley Parker parked his beat-up, yellow 1979 Chevette in the street. Having just dropped Renee Laisaille back at her dorm, he was ready to hit the sack. He got out of the car and noticed the Duncans’ garage door going up. “It’s, like, 3:30 in the morning,” he said. “I’d expect them all to be in bed.” As he sauntered up the driveway, the van started to pull out and stopped once it cleared the garage.
The side door of the van slid open, and a voice called out, “Parker, get in here!”
Charley knew the voice. The long-haired blond complied, climbed inside, and closed the door behind himself. Inside the back of the van were his friends Mal Duncan and Hank Hall. Mal was dressed in his whitish-gray Hornblower costume with a new blue hood added, a costumed identity he was now calling the Herald. Charley moved to the back section as the van continued to roll out of the driveway. “What gives, dudes?”
“We’ve been waiting on you,” Hank Hall said. “Five more minutes, and we would have left without you. Now get your gear on!”
Charley saw that his Golden Eagle armor was in the back. He began to unbutton his shirt. “So, who’s driving? Karen?”
Mal’s wife gestured from up front with a black-gloved hand. She was wearing her costume beneath her coat. Another woman sat in the passenger side and turned her blond head back.
Charley caught sight of the woman, and his jaw dropped. “Dawn Granger? Like, what’s she doing here? And what about our secrets?”
“Long story,” Mal said. “We’ll explain along the way.”
“So, like, where are we going this late, anyway?” Charley asked.
Hank produced a picture from the white envelope in his hand and held it up for his friend to see. “We’ve been given an invitation we can’t refuse,” Hank stated.
The front of the picture was a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. On the back side was a message to Hawk scrawled in freshly dried blood. It read:
Arrive before dawn, or morning traffic will be deadly! K.
Golden Eagle and the Bumblebee soared above the others as they made their way across the bridge. On the horizon, a very faint line of red light could be seen. “Wow!” the armored hero said. “I, like, still can’t believe it about Dawn being the new Dove, you know? That’s, like, a total surprise!”
“Something tells me we have more surprises yet to come tonight,” the insect-garbed heroine responded. “Keep those eyes focused, Charley. I’m not quite sure what we’re looking for.” She looked around, first at the cables above and then forward. “We’d better find it soon, though. Daybreak isn’t that far away.”
Below, three more costumed heroes ran along just behind. “The bridge is so beautiful at this time of night,” Dove remarked. “I’m not surprised someone like Kestrel would threaten to destroy it just to get our attention.”
“I’m betting the blood wasn’t his own,” Hawk stated. “If he’s killing people to get to me, he’s going down hard!”
“Take it easy, Hawk,” the Herald said. “We’ll be right there with you. When one Titan is threatened, we all watch his back. We’re like family, you know?”
Hawk grunted. “Well, we lost one Titan already on this spot years back!” He alluded to the time Gnarrk was killed by Chronos, when the Titans — both east and west — helped Superman round up the Injustice Gang. “I’m not putting another of my friends at risk. Is that understood?”
The Herald nodded. “I hear you, brother.”
Up ahead, the Bumblebee called out to them. “Guys, over here! Hurry!” The trio raced on and joined the two who had landed. There, before them at the base of one of the large metal support beams, was what appeared to be the remains of a homeless man. The body had been torn apart by something sharp; blood pooled up underneath the rag-covered remains. “Poor soul.”
Hawk’s eyes narrowed, and then he followed a thin trace of blood as it went up and around the support beam. To the left, on a small ledge, appeared the word enter scrawled in fresh blood. “I found something!” he announced.
The others made their way around as well. “What?” asked Dove. “I see the word–”
“No, not that!” Hawk snapped. “The door!”
“Like, what door, dude?” Golden Eagle asked.
“Are you all blind? There is a door right here in this metal support!”
“Hawk, I don’t see any seams or anything,” Bumblebee added. “If there is something there, it was made for you alone to find.”
Hawk frowned at them. “Obviously this is where Kestrel wanted us to go, so I say we go!” He pushed his hand against the support. The metal gave way easily, and a portal opened up. The light that poured out was blinding, not allowing the group to see what was beyond the doorway. “Am I doing this alone, guys, or what?”
“One second.” The Herald fiddled with his horn gadget. He punched in a few sequences and watched the small read-out above the buttons. The Bumblebee looked over his shoulder. He showed his wife the read-out, and she conferred with a nod. “There, all set. This is definitely some kind of dimensional warp. I just wanted to calibrate the horn to it just in case we need to beat a hasty retreat.”
“Fine!” Hawk said impatiently. “Then let’s do this!” The five heroes nodded, and together they plunged through the portal of light. It surged with an even greater brilliance before closing up behind them.
The bridge support now appeared to be as it had original been, simply a solid metal support.
The Titans West tumbled forward, slightly disoriented. Golden Eagle and the Bumblebee tried to control their own falls by taking flight. “Like, which way is up?” the Eagle asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” the Bumblebee replied as she barely avoided being hit one of many flying rocks. Wherever they were was vast in size, and the only things that could be seen in all directions were barren rocks of various sizes and shapes floating in the air.
The Herald landed on his backside on one of the larger rocks and said, “What is this place?” Hawk and Dove landed next to him on their feet, although Dove’s landing was less graceful than usual.
A voice laughed from above them. Standing on another large floating rock was a man in a purple and black costume. “Welcome, Hawk. I see you brought Dove and a few of your so-called friends. So nice of you to drop in.”
“Kestrel, you slime-ball!” Hawk exclaimed. “Where the hell are we?”
Kestrel laughed again. “Not Hell, Hawk. I’m surprised that you don’t recognize this place. After all, it is where your powers come from.” He made a sweeping gesture with his right hand. “This is the Chaos Realm.”
“You wanted us here,” Hawk said. “Why?”
Kestrel shook his head. “It’s you I wanted, Hawk. It’s always been you. I wanted to welcome you home for a long stay. In fact, I insist!”
The rock beneath the hero’s feet began to tremble, and disembodied hands began to spring forth from it. They grabbed at Hawk’s legs and his torso and arms, attempting to bind him. “What the–?!” the hero exclaimed.
Dove lost her balance and fell from the floating rock they were on. She was barely able to catch herself on another. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, she thought to herself. This place is so confusing, illogical. It makes no sense to me. Hard to keep my thoughts straight.
The Herald had remained near Hawk. Better put this in a safe place, he thought as he slipped the horn into his cape. Don’t want to lose it, just in case. He then dived forward in hopes of helping Hawk, but several hands sprang up to prevent this particular action.
Hawk pulled at the hands, flinging them away with great force. “Is this the best you’ve got, Kestrel?” he asked. He chopped at the ones holding his feet, releasing his left foot, then right. “You’ve been gunning for a fight with me, all night! But when you call me out, you then hide behind some cheap tricks!” The more Hawk fought, the angrier he became. And with that anger, he was getting stronger and larger and more ferocious. “I won’t stand by while you kill those around me! You hear that?”
Kestrel’s smile widened. “Excellent, Hawk!” Suddenly, the discarded hands began to change, to grow demonic bodies. They began to swarm once more on the hero. “You just keep fighting my hordes! When you are through with them, you’ll be ready for the next step in our partnership!”