Sharp super-lightening split across a sick dry sky as a lone yellow cab pulled up in front of a long abandoned university. Treadless tires crunched on neglected cobblestones that had not yet lost the fight against the invading wild grass that used to be a pristine lawn. The car rolled up to the main entrance of the windowless structure. The brickwork crumbling, the roof collapsing, the aggressive truffula trees and vines simultaneously pulling and pushing against it.
The pale driver scratched at his unkept beard. Hunched over the steering wheel, he got a better look through the windshield at the derelict campus. "You sure this is where you wanna to be?" he gruffly asked the passenger in the back seat.
"For the last time, yes, I'm damn sure," was the exasperated reply from the thin red man in the back seat. He was dressed in a black tuxedo with an opera cape over his sharp shoulders, and had a moustache and goatee that ended with a very slight but deliberate twists. He placed a top hat on his greasy hair and a domino mask on his pointed face. "Stay here and keep the meter running. I won't be long."
The driver muttered a derisive comment under his breathe, but put the car in park.
The thin man climbed out of the car and, negotiating some fallen wooden beams and a spectacularly overgrown hedge, managed to get inside the building. There was no light inside, any lamps long extinguished, smashed, or stolen. White gloved fingers snapped, and a small flame danced at the end of his thumb. A flickering light was cast across books. Piles and piles and piles of books.
They were of every size and shape, from old musty tomes to ragged tossed pamphlets. They were stacked madly against the walls, on the floor, leaning crazily against themselves, in many cases the only things keeping the rotting walls up. The deeper he went, the more there were. Layers upon layers of them, until the remains of the university were completely obscured by them, leaving only a claustrophobic cavern of books.
He paused at one that lay open and saw the pages were blank. Flipping through it, he found all the pages that way. He randomly chose another book, he discovered the same thing. Blank pages. Every book, every page, and not a single word on any of them.
With a shiver, he knew that he was in the right place.
"It is indecorous of diminutive vigilantes to obtrude," a whisper came over cracking thunder.
The books under the thin man's feet shunted, starting an avalanche of leather and paper and cardboard. He lost his balance and tumbled down a sinkhole. The fall snuffed the fragile flame.
He didn't so much reach the bottom as slide into it, banged against stacks of softcovers that curved into a horizontal surface of ripped pages and torn covers. It was dark. He was disoriented. No idea how far he had fallen. Hard to get a footing on all the loose paper. An ancient dryness to the air that scratched his throat as he breathed.
He felt the presence. All around him. In the dark somewhere, leaking out from conceptual places, slipping between the thin angles of splayed open spines.
They say some ideas have a momentum, that some stories have a life of their own. They seem to forget that life is usually an ugly, brutal thing. They never warn you about the malevolence it can have.
"I postulate it is not fortuitous circumstance you are in attendance. What is your intendment at this locus?" asked the whisper, sticky in sound.
"You're right, naturally," the thin man answered. "I came here looking for you."
"How did you descry my cloister?"
He felt the weight of the words, the air weakly echoing them, like it couldn't support its mass. The speech was both product and person, a presence and a result of it. "I... heard rumours of an empty corner of the universe. One that used to be lush with civilizations and learning, so much so that they formed a galactic university. And after space-centuries of research and experimentation, their bio-philosophers had succeeded in gestating an Idea so primal that it could exist independent of any self or being.
"But these rumours, they say these great civilizations then became insular, became isolated. They gave up all their achievements and regressed. That they lost their culture, shunned their sciences, abandoned their arts, and even forgot how to speak..."
"Not forgotten! Taken!" bellowed the words with predatory pride. "Plagiarized and masticated! A feast of lexeme that I gorged up! Absorbing apperception, discarding the meaningless! I was voracious and coveted multifarious attainments. I arrogated every integer, every idiom, every concept and phrase they reserved and desiderated entireties.
"A thousand different civilizations. Their acculturation, their edification, their vocabularies, now mine! Mine alone! A symbiotic component of the Secret Living Language!"
"Well," the thin man said, trying to get his footing in the dark, "not so secret now, I suppose."
The weight of the words lifted away for a moment, like a hand pulled back in shock, then came slamming back down at him. The Idea so fierce and fully formed that it threatened to steamroll him. His mind laboured over its thoughts as his lungs laboured to breathe. "I have punctiliously administered this recondite residence for inestimable epochs. How did you espy hermetical burrow?"
"The dead... the dead told me..." he choked out. Just as he was certain he was going to get crushed, the Idea softened. It lightened, became pliable. The thin man gasped and coughed on the stale air.
"Elucidate," it demanded from everywhere.
"I'm offended. I was certain my infamy had reached even this far." There was no response, only a growing dread. With a disappointed sigh, the thin man removed his top hat and peeled the domino mask from his face. He noted with a small smirk that he could dimly make out them out. "I am renowned as a two-fisted crime-fighter, but in my alternate identity, I am equally famous as... the Devil! And though you have caused the extinction of worlds to keep your lair here hidden, there are no secrets in Hell."
The feeling of dread circled around him. His eyes were adjusting to the faintness, occasionally catching the Idea rolling around in the cluttered space. "Then I've a peremptory urgency to extirpate you in advance of you admeasuring this cipher en masse."
"Pfft! A little late for that." He held up his hands, his gloves fairly clear in the growing light. "I only wanted one other person to find this place, and he doesn't even have to talk to me to do it."
The light grew brighter, the source coming from behind and above. The piles started to shiver, loose pages fluttered in a lifting breeze. There was a rising heat in the air, a crackling spark in the long dryness.
"...you see, his star-instruments alert him the moment I gain access to this mortal realm."
The brightness grew blinding, invading the buried place through the stacked volumes. The dry air cracked. Leather and paper and cardboard caught fire. Collapsing piles collapsed other piles, the walls of books falling away in light and flickering flames. The Super Wizard From Space marched down a long buried set of marble steps, making great sweeping motions with his arms that sent millions of blank tomes flying away in tearing, burning tidal waves.
The Idea fragmented in surprise, falling in between the spaces left. The Devil felt its ragged concepts pull out of his mind, felt the presence slide off his skin. It even dragged the memory of itself out, hiding itself ins the metaphors of the room's sharp corners. He knew it was there, but if it ever had a shape or a face or a form, it had stolen that for itself.
The Devil stood up, brushing dust, dirt, and fire off his tuxedo jacket. "Finally. I thought you'd never get here."
A fast cross. A blast of pain. The taste of copper. Knocked to the floor. His jaw ached. His cheek had that hot blistered feeling to it.
"Last we met, You and your kind were victims of your own convoluted manipulations," said the wizard flatly, his fists searing brightly with star-power.
"Caught in my own trap, you mean," the Devil said, spitting out a bloody tooth. "Call it what it is. I've had too much of a wordy day already."
"Why have you come back?"
The Devil chortled, "Isn't is obvious? I'm here because you need me!"
The main problem with making most of this up as you go is that when you eventually do get around to setting up an ongoing plot, you find that you've already sabotaged it. For example, I didn't really come up with the idea of the cosmic crowns and their importance in the tournament until around issue six of this series.
The advantage, on the flip side, is that it is relative easy to make plot changes on the fly. The Gavrilo arc was supposed to be only two issues originally, with the Hermit Wizard living at the end. The Monster Bees didn't figure into it until literally the end of issue six, when I tossed them in for the hell of it.
I'm okay with that sort of loose scripting because that was one of the "rules" I set for this series when I started it. I try not to take it too seriously, neither the material nor the process. Its a learning experience and I have to be willing to make mistakes.
One mistake was the addition of Queen Buzz, Emperor M, and The Secret Living Language to the story arcs on Planet Amenity. They didn't really add anything to the story and I kept tripping over them when trying to get action moving, so I just ended up ignoring them. The Secret Living Language in particular was pretty flat, no personality. I'm not going to pretend the character is amazingly three-dimensional now, but its now more interesting than just a wacky concept with verbose dialogue.
Writing that damn dialogue is really annoying, by the way :P
With the return of a fan-favorite character (okay, maybe just one of my favorite characters), I decided to put a little more effort. I did some light research and made some more purposeful choices in scenes and descriptions... the piles blank books for example, a nod to the classic scene of the monster's cave full of the picked-clean bones of its meals.
I am expecting this series to run four issues total. Maybe five? I want to get better at judging this sort of thing.