Friday, October 12, 2012

A World without Heroes - The Unauthorized KISS Novel: Chapters 2 & 3

A World without Heroes - The Unauthorized KISS Novel

Chapter 2

Original Strange Ways #1 artwork by Larry Blake
            It was cold. It was dark. It was raining.
            It was Hell.
            And it had been that way for a very long time.
            He stood in the rain, waiting for the cab to arrive. He was not feeling very good at all. He was tired, his face looked awful, and the clothes he had on were beginning to stink of the rain. He wore a pair of frayed bell-bottoms and an old T-shirt that said, "Exc-u-u-use Me!" On his head was a beat-up driver's cap, and he wore an overcoat that had once seen better days. A pair of ratty, old sneakers completed the ensemble.
            His salt-and-pepper hair had reached the point of being far more salt than pepper, and what hair he's lost from his head had been replaced in his beard. In fact, the full, dark beard was, it seemed to him, the only benefit of the series of events which had occurred. But a good beard was not worth the pain and frustration he had endured.
            His mind began to reflect on what had taken place in the last few years until finally a cab pulled up a few feet away from him. A man emerged from the car's back seat, moved to the driver's window, and handed the figure inside some money. There was some muttering between the driver and the passenger, and then the cab drove away, leaving the man standing in the middle of the street. The two men looked at each other for several seconds. Neither spoke.
            After the long silence, the man in the street finally spoke. "Well, I'm here. What's up Peter?"
            "Hi, Gene," Peter said, pulling one hand from his coat pocket and waving slightly. "Uh, look, I'm sorry to drag you out into the rain for no apparent reason . . . but I really need to talk to you. And what I want to say, I can't say over the phone. Do you understand?"
            "No," Gene replied. He did not understand at all.  It seemed that every since KISS had started the US tour for their newest album, Peter had been popping up in the strangest places. At almost every stop, he had called one of the band members, asking them to meet him at some out-of-the-way place to talk over "old times." The idea of meeting Peter somewhere did not bother them, but the ludicrous hours at which he called, and the desperation in his voice, certainly did.
            About an hour before Gene had gotten the call.  Peter had told him to take a cab he had sent over to the hotel and meet him at the all-night restaurant.  When Gene saw the time, he had slammed the phone down in frustration.  It was almost three in the morning and he had just finally gotten to sleep.  Angry, Gene had planned on just rolling over and trying to get some sleep before the band had to pull out early the next morning.  It was not his fault that Peter was crazy, Gene thought to himself at the time, and maybe a bit of rudeness would do him the world of good. 
            He felt anxious about standing Peter up at such a time, but Gene knew that he would get over it.  He also knew that he needed to get back to sleep for the early load-up the next day.
            Instead, less than an hour later, he found himself standing in the cold December rain, waiting for some kind of explanation from Peter about his strange behavior.
            They were silent for a few moments. Peter finally pointed to a sign a short distance away. "Well, um, look, instead of standing here in the rain, why don't we go to that Frisch's over there. We could talk . . . and get something to eat while we're at it."
            Gene just stood there. He almost expected Peter to leap at him or something equally as crazy, but all he wanted to do was go to a restaurant and talk. This was not what he had expected at all. He walked over to Peter and studied him more closely.
            Peter looked back at him.  Something in each other’s eyes told them that the other was behaving as normally as possible under the slightly odd circumstances of their meeting.
            During the short walk to Frisch's, neither of them spoke. They went inside and found an empty booth. Immediately after they sat, a waitress brought water and menus and set them in front of the two men. As the waitress left, Peter looked up at Gene.
            "Um, how have you been?"
            Gene laughed. The irony of Peter's question was almost too much. "Oh, fine! Fine. How have you been?"
            "Oh, all right. I guess." He was lying and he knew Gene could tell. Peter hid behind the menu and pretended to read. He felt foolish by trying to be too casual. Gene probably thought he was nuts and anything he did now would only further that impression. It was stupid, but so has been everything else -- the running, the hiding, the fighting, even the attempts to convince the band that he was not insane.
            Everything had fallen apart for him, and them, but they could not see it happening.
            Gene stared at the menu in front of Peter's face, not knowing what to say. The last time he had actually sat down and talked with Peter was before the photo-session for LICK IT UP, and the only thing he remembered about the conversation was that it had not gone well. A few days after that, Peter had been reported missing.
            At first no one had thought much of it. With the kind of money Peter had, he could go on an unannounced vacation anytime he wanted. There were reports of him popping up every now and then, but it was assumed that he was just taking it easy until he was ready to do something musically again.
            According to Peter’s wife, they had just returned from seeing Gene when Peter started searching the house from top to bottom. Frantically searching for something, she had thought he had said something about the house being "bugged." Just as he had destroyed about everything in the house, he stopped as abruptly as he had started. Peter stayed silent for the rest of the evening, and Debra decided to let him cool off a bit and ask him what was wrong in the morning. She had gone on to bed without him as he sat on the couch and brooded.
            The next day, he was gone. He had packed in a hurry, taking only three suitcases and a few thousand in cash from their account. After a few hours, Debra had called the police. When they could not turn up anything, she had gotten in touch with the guys in the band, hoping that they might have seen him. Management soon found out about the whole thing and had it under wraps before it could leak out to the press, so there were no problems with publicity; but that was the only progress made on finding him.
            Everyone had hopes that he would turn up soon. "Maybe with a tan or talking about just getting his head together," Paul had said at the time. Gene had agreed. After all, "we all go a little crazy at times." Gene was sure that Peter would return, safe and sound.

Original Strange Ways #1 artwork by Larry Blake.

            But it did not turn out that way. Instead he had finally started popping up during the newest KISS tour, following the band around the country. The only time he would venture talking to anyone was at the weirdest times with his requests for "chats."  Like the request that had led to their meeting at that moment.
            "I --" Gene began, just as the waitress returned.
            "Are you ready to order?"
            "Yes," Gene answered, not even bothering to look at the menu. "I'll have a Big Boy platter, no cheese, and a large root beer. How 'bout you, Peter?"
            “Um . . . ah . . . a chocolate milkshake."
            "Anything else?" The waitress asked.
            “Um . . . no. That'll do it." Peter handed his menu back to the waitress, and Gene followed Peter's action with his own menu.
            Gene watched for a long moment as the waitress walked away. He grinned as he turned back to Peter and began pulling off the heavy black coat he was wearing.
            "I see your taste in food has really improved since the last time I saw you."
            "And I see your taste in clothing has really deteriorated since the last time I saw you, " Peter said, staring at the string-sleeved, black top Gene was wearing. It was one that he had worn on stage during the tour and had pulled it on when he was getting ready at the hotel. "It looks as though that shirt's trying to flog you for wearing it."
            They looked at each other, deadpan. Gene smiled, then they both started to chuckle. It was what was needed to break the tension. There was another burst of laughter as Peter removed his overcoat, exposing the tee shirt underneath.
            "Ah, always in style for the modern, get-up-and-go man. New from the Salvation Army collection."
            "Aye, matey, the best clothes fifty cents can buy."
            They continued their conversation in the same fashion until the rhythm became perfect.   It was frivolous banter, and they knew it; yet, it was also a respite from the uneasiness that they had both been feeling so far.  Things were warming up between the two as the waitress came back with their order and they fell back into silence as they began to eat.
            Finally Gene spoke. "Wasn't there supposed to be something you wanted to talk to me about?"
            Peter looked down at his shake, poking at the dull bits of ice cream in the mixture. "It can wait." He looked up at Gene. "So, hey, tell me how the tour's been going. I've heard everything's been great."
            "Yes. It has been tremendous. There's a whole new life to the band. It's been really exciting, like starting all over again."
            Peter almost laughed. More than you realize, he thought.
            "Hey," Gene exclaimed. "Have you even heard the new album yet?"
            Peter eyed Gene suspiciously. "You don't remember?"
            "Huh? What are you talking about?"
            "The meeting we had right before the record came out. You gave me an advance copy. Remember?"
            Gene stared blankly for a moment, then a small snatch of memory came to him. "Oh, yeah . . .. I remember now. Well, I remember seeing you, but I couldn't remember why. So. What did you think of it?"
            "Wait a minute," Peter snorted, feeling somewhat confused. "You mean that's all you remember about that meeting?"
            "Well, yeah . . ..” Now it was Gene that was eyeing Peter suspiciously.
            "Nothing else?"
            Gene felt uneasy at the questioning. "Well, no. . . . I don't know. My memory must be going, I guess.  Seems like I've been forgetting a lot of things lately. I really can't remember anything else about that day."
            "You hardly remember anything about the last few years."
            "Wait. I haven't exactly gone senile yet, if that's what you mean. Things are just sort of caught up in a daze. Hey! Pretty catchy song title, don't you think?" Gene's attempts to bring the conversation back to a more normal level did not work as Peter's voice once again rose frantically as he spoke.
            "You mean you don't remember all the weird things that have happened to everyone associated with the band for the past seven-eight years?"
            Gene was now nervous. He did not like the way things were going down at all. Maybe, he decided, Peter was going nuts.
            "Don't you remember what happened to the old man? Don't you even remember what happened to Ace?"
            People had stopped eating and were staring at the now very loud Peter.
            "Peter," Gene said, "calm down. What are you talking about?"
            Peter sighed and lowered his voice as he darted looks around the restaurant. "Man, they must really have done a job on you guys."
            "Look, Peter," Gene said, annoyed with the whole conversation. "I wish you would tell me what you're going on about. People have been telling me that you haven't been feeling well lately. If you want me to do something for you, just tell me."
            "Dammit!" Peter pounded a fist on the table. "I don't care what you've heard, I'm not going crazy! In fact, I'm probably the only one who knows what's going on!"
            Peter took a breath, slowing down his speech a bit to show he had patience with Gene. "Look, don't you even remember the Talismans?"
            "You know, the Talismans. The four necklaces the old guy gave us. The ones that made us more than ordinary humans and gave us superpowers."
            Gene stared at him in disbelief.
            "I know what you're talking about, Pete. But that was only part of the act -- it was only for the comic book and the movie. It wasn't real."
            "No!     . . .No. . . . They were . . .are . . . real! I should know. I was there when we got them. Can't you remember? Can't you see that something has happened to you, me and the rest of the band?  Something more than just taking off makeup?"
            "Peter," Gene said with a bit of concern in his voice, trying his best to understand what his friend was going through. "I know things have been rough for you lately, but retreating into a fantasy world isn't the way to solve your problems. Understand?"
            Peter was silent for a moment.
            "Yeah, I understand," he finally mumbled.
            He understood all right. He understood that Gene, Paul and Eric had all been brainwashed.  Maybe even Vinnie.  They did not remember the Talismans or the way things had been. He also understood that those responsible were probably after him as well. After all, he still knew the truth about the Talismans and the Management. He knew too much. That's why he had to split.  And if they thought he was nuts, maybe they would leave his family alone.
            It had worked, but at the price of making everyone else think he was crazy too. Yeah, he understood perfectly.
            Gene stood up, leaving his half-finished meal on the table. He looked at Peter.
            "It's almost four in the morning, the band’s pulling out early today, and I'd like to get some sleep first. Frankly, if you're looking for some advice, I suggest you go home. I mean, playing superhero is great, but it's not real. There's more to life than that. You know what I mean?"
            "Yeah." Peter looked across the room, avoiding eye contact with Gene.
            "I'm leaving. Will you be all right?"
            "Yeah, you're right." Peter sighed once again. "Maybe it's time I headed on home."
            "Good. Look, I'll pay the check, then I'm going back to the hotel, okay?"
            "Sure. Okay."
            Gene stood for a moment and tried to smile at Peter.  Feeling awkward and noticing that Peter refused to look up at him, Gene turned and walked away from the table.  Peter stared down at his milkshake, which was now more milk than shake.  When he heard Gene’s footsteps move away he looked up to see Gene heading to the cash register with their bill.  As Gene waited for his change, a young man sitting at the counter scoffed down the last of his cup of coffee and stepped over to Gene.  At first Peter thought it was someone connected to Management and felt a tinge of panic take him before he realized it had been the cabbie that drove Gene over to the restaurant in the first place.  Seeing Gene shake his head after the cabbie spoke to him, Peter was sure that the man must have come in for some coffee after dropping Gene off and now saw his changes for a return fare.
            Relaxing a bit, Peter turned his attention to the window by his table.  After only a moment he saw Gene and the cabbie go towards the parked car and the two getting in without another word.  Within another moment, the cab was gone and so was the opportunity Peter felt he had held on to for so long.
            Peter crawled out of the booth and put on his coat. He walked to the entrance door that led to the outside world.
            Maybe Gene's right, Peter contemplated. Maybe I should just go home. It might be better to forget the whole mess and worry about life in the real world.
            "Hey, buddy."
            "What?" Startled, Peter turned to see a man with a bag of food, waiting to get out.
            "Mind if I use the door?"
            "Oh. Sorry." Peter grinned sheepishly and moved out of the man's way.
            When he stepped out into the night, the rain had stopped, but it was still very cold. He buttoned up his coat and jammed his hands into the pockets.
            "Naw," he said to himself. "I think I'll wait it out just a little longer. Who knows? Maybe Ace will show up eventually. There has to be some way to win. Even if the war is over."
            He lifted his head up in the cold air and smiled as he thought about what Gene had said about reality.  "Gene," Peter said to the night, "you just don't know what it was like."
            He looked into the darkness for a moment.
            “ . . .We used to be heroes . . ..”
            And the night laughed with the shudder of a breeze.

Original Strange Ways #1 artwork by Larry Blake.




            It was time for the Elders to decide.
            In every age, the Council of Elders had chosen individuals worthy enough to use the powers of the Talismans. It was not something to be taken lightly.
            Those chosen had to be extraordinary humans; and have evidence of a strong spirit. It normally took years of study by a member of the Council to track down those that could be the ones to become the new guardians of the Talismans, and even then it was not always a case of the individuals being right for their newfound roles.
            The last four chosen had given up their powers for various reasons. One wished to become more a part of his earthly life, to live with his wife and child in New York State and not have to deal with the dangers of such responsibilities. Another wished to use the power for personal gain. The Council noted his actions, and when he was brought before them in question of his use of the Talisman, he reluctantly surrendered his rights back to the Elders. A third found a new way of live and, not wanting to abuse the power as he considered it an unfair advantage in his quest for enlightenment, returned his Talisman to the Council. The last of the guardians had always abided by the laws of the Council, and knew that the parting of the four Talismans for any length of time was not part of the continuous cycle. When the other three had been returned, he gave the final Talisman back willingly.
            As to the reasons for the Talismans, and as to the reasons for the Council to give without question such power to mere humans, they were locked up inside the answers that only the Elders themselves knew. For it was not just a case of giving these individuals powers for the right or the strong; it was a quest to see where such powers would lead the humans. It was not a battle of good and evil, but a choice of good and evil. The Elders' duty was not to the greater good of mankind, but the destiny of mankind, for the outcome of every Dynasty was not in the hands of the Elders but in those of the guardians. Some found greatness, some failure; some found the rewards of life, some the horrors of existence. Some lived. Some died.
            All inched the destiny of mankind a step further.
            As to the reasons that the Elders would even bother with such a quest . . .well, some would argue what it meant.  Some would even argue that it was not meant to be, with every new turnover being another case for renewed arguments.  Ultimately, it was simply what was done.
            Five years had passed since the Talisman had been returned. Five years had been spent looking for new guardians to take on the roles. Now had come the time for the Council of the Elders to meet once again in the capital and vote on the new guardians.
            The choosing of the guardians was conducted in the main chamber of the Council's capital building.  The capital was decorated in a chaotic mixture of the various styles of Earth; for, although they merely studied the Human Race, over time the Elders have adopted pieces of this forgettable culture into their own. Roman and Greek-inspired architecture; with touches of Victorian design; dominated the hall leading to the Main Chamber, which was patterned after early American decor mixed with Egyptian styles and a touch of the Viking period. Strangely, the various styles had been successfully blended, although the overall impact visually was intimidating and somewhat stuffy. In fact, no one was particularly fond of the capital, and its only purpose was for very important matters. Any other business was handled out of the homes or individual chambers of the Elders.
            Members of the Council moved through the long corridors of the capital toward the Main Chamber, some stopping to discuss other matters that seemed a bit more important than that of the guardians.  Each member had on his finest attire, though no two wore the same type of dress. Nor was there a visual ranking of individuals above any others in the group.  Clothing was the choice of the individual, and like the capital itself was composed of many different styles of Earth.
            A tall man in a late-twentieth century, black business suit entered the main hall, carrying a neat stack of files. He moved with dignity, his face straight ahead and his eyes avoiding the look of the others around him. His dark hair was modestly cut and had traces of gray near the temples. There was also gray scattered throughout his neatly trimmed beard and carefully clipped moustache.
            He moved at a brisk pace and was almost to the Main Chamber door as a smaller man approached him from his left.
            "Hello, Blackwell," the shorter man said. A smirk rose on his face as he came closer to the other man. "Dressing like a militant again? Must be terribly hot in that suit of yours."
            Blackwell turned to the other man as he laid his right hand on the handle to one of the Main Chamber's doors.
            “Ah, good evening, Morpheus," Blackwell replied with a cold, hard smile. "I see that you have decided to make an appearance at the meeting after all."
            Besides the emphasis on the word "appearance," Blackwell restrained himself from making a comment about Morpheus' clothing. It was too ludicrous to even breathe a mention of it. Morpheus' clothes were not that of any period of Earth, but rather a combination of many styles that, unlike the capital's appearance, did not look even remotely coordinated in any way. He wore Bermuda shorts underneath a belt of animal skins, sandals, a rumpled Victorian shirt and a smoking jacket. An unruly mop of hair and snow-white beard completed his outlandish appearance.
            Ignoring Blackwell's comment, Morpheus stepped up to Blackwell. He lowered his voice as he spoke. "I trust you received the messages I sent you."
            "I trust you received the tiny shreds I promptly made of them, " Blackwell said, still smiling.
            "Yes. I just wanted to make sure that you had read them yourself, instead of letting one of your flunkies do it for you."
            Seeing that Morpheus was not about to end the conversation quickly, Blackwell stepped away from the door so that others could file through. He shuffled through his files, avoiding Morpheus' glare.  "Oh, I read them, and I must say, I found your pathetic threats quite amusing."
            "I take it then that you're planning to announce your choices for guardians at the meeting?"
            "Of course, my dear Morpheus," Blackwell responded, seemingly absorbed in his files as he spoke.  "The task of finding four candidates for consideration as guardians was given to me years ago by the Council and I feel I have found the four people right for the positions. My word is enough, and nothing you say will have any effect on the Council's final decision."
            "Listen, Blackwell," Morpheus words came out so low that they almost hissed from his lips. "I understand your feelings about this matter, but I can’t condone it.  What you are doing is wrong. I cannot allow you to violate the code of the Elders in this manner, and I will fight you in any way I can. There's still time for you to change your mind. If not, it will be you that suffers."
            Blackwell snapped the file shut he was looking at and turned to Morpheus. "As I have already told you, there is nothing you can do to convince me of your position. There is nothing you have to even prove this ludicrous idea of yours.  No one will believe that I would attempt to misuse my rank in the Council, even if it were true."
            "Now," he continued, the cold smile returning to his face, "the Council is ready to proceed with this meeting. I suggest we enter before they start without us. Would not want to start the campaign for the new guardians off on the wrong step, would we?"
            He bowed to Morpheus. "After you."
            Morpheus walked quickly into the room, around the number of chairs lining the hall and up the stairs of the small platform that held the Council's main table. He sat off to the right of the table with a few other individuals that were considered notable enough to be on the stage, yet not enough to be at the table.  As he did so, Blackwell moved directly around the table and took his place to the left of the center chair there.
            Watching all of this calmly was a man seated at the center of the table. His style of clothing was bit more like Blackwell's, although with a bit more flair and of an earlier era in the Earth's twentieth century. In fact, to those who knew the eras of Earth, it tinged of what a schoolmaster must have worn at the turn of the century so long ago. It certainly did mingle well with the regales that the man showed as he rose from his chair to begin the meeting.
            A hush fell over the room as he began speaking in a clear, deep voice. "My fellow Council members, as Chairman I am here to welcome you all to this very important occasion. There is no need to put on an air of ceremony about our task, as we all know that today 's vote will not be an easy one. The last four guardians abandoned their task rather recklessly over time, and we had assumed that their positions would have lasted much longer when we voted for them.  Certainly in light of the Council member that so vigorously suggested the individuals in the first place."
            The Chairman looked over to Morpheus quickly and thoughtlessly, but it was enough to make Morpheus shift with regret in his seat.
            "Four years ago, a new evaluation was started, and another member of the Council was assigned the privilege of finding individuals to carry on the tradition and duties of the Talismans. He is here with us today to show us who he has picked for such roles and their qualifications. Your votes today will decide if these individuals, although only humans, will become a part of the great force which controls the chain of human events. I can only ask of you to listen carefully and vote wisely.  Blackwell?"
            The Chairman sat as Blackwell rose to his feet and opened his first file that he had placed carefully on the table. Studying the file for a brief moment, he finally raised his head and smiled.
            "Chairman, members of the Council, friends. As you've just heard, I feel that I have located the four humans worthy of this great responsibility. At first you may not feel much about their chances; but I feel that they will be able to prove themselves. More importantly, I feel that they will be able to use the Talismans' power for the advancement of their race and for the good of all."
            With a motion of his head, the room darkened and a holographic image of a small human being lit up brightly in the center of the room before Blackwell and the Council. No one took any notice of the sudden appearance of the image; yet, Blackwell could feel a slight change in the facial expressions of his fellow Council members. He hesitated slightly, unsure of if it was just his imagination or if it really was something more, then he proceeded.
            "Abner Deveraux, co-owner of a corporation developing high advanced robotics --"
            It was the last word Blackwell spoke before the Chairman rose from his seat.
            "Discontinue the projection." The Chairman said in a grave voice.
            The image disappeared quickly and the lights were brought up once again as the Chairman continued.
            Blackwell, a bit confused over the abrupt nature of the Chairman, stood silently away from the Chairman.
            "Blackwell," the Chairman began again, as he saw that Blackwell was not about to turn towards him.  "I wish to speak with you privately for a moment."
            The Chairman walked around the table and in front of Blackwell. He did not look at Blackwell, merely continued on his way to a small, private room off to the far side of the Chamber. He opened the door and walked in, leaving the door open for Blackwell to follow.
            With a bit of flush on his face, Blackwell picked up his folders. He drew himself up to his full height and stared at the members of the Council before him. Nodding quickly, he turned and walked toward the room. Upon reaching it, he closed the door behind him.
            He saw the Chairman facing away from him. Once the closing of the door was heard, the Chairman swayed his body towards Blackwell. He moved slowly towards Blackwell and kept his voice low as he spoke.
            "I see that you did not heed the advice of your colleague. I had hoped this would not be necessary, but it appears that I must expose this treachery. Morpheus?"
            It was first time Blackwell had noticed that Morpheus was also in the room, off in a far corner. It was also the first time Blackwell had ever really noticed Morpheus in any significant way. Blackwell's eyes turned to slits as Morpheus approached the other two.
            "Several days ago, Morpheus spoke to me about your plans. He told me you were plotting to make use of the Talismans and the Guardians to accomplish your own selfish goals."
            "Surely," Blackwell almost chuckled the words as he spoke them, "you don't believe the rambling of this lunatic. He merely wishes to drag down another member of the Council due to his own failures from the time before. How he can justify his accusations against not only another member of the Council, but one of my rank, must plainly show to you that he is not thinking with any other thoughts than that of revenge."
            "At first," the Chairman said, "I too felt such ideas were impossible to believe. However, for the sake of the Council I decided to have other members examine the histories of those you have chosen for the Guardianships. All were found to have sadistic tendencies and would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. Proof also came to me that you intended to give the powers of the Talismans to these people in order to manipulate and, eventually, to gain control of the Council."
            "You have no proof," Blackwell spitted out.
            "We have a signed confession from one of your main assistants." Morpheus held out a piece of paper to Blackwell.
            Blackwell snatched the paper away from Morpheus, his face twisting into anger as he read the confession.
            "Blackwell?" The Chairman was directly in front of Blackwell as Blackwell looked up to the sound of his voice.
            "This proves nothing. Obviously the words of another Council member that wants to turn my years of service and trust within the Elders to their advantage by making me out to be part of some insane conspiracy." Blackwell crumpled up the confession in a ball and threw it on the floor.
            "Blackwell," The Chairman acted as if he had not heard a word that Blackwell had said. "The confession merely shows that your plans for the Elders do not sit well with the Council or even others around you. Even your own men have turned against you. Surely you must see the disaster that lies ahead if you should pursue this scheme of yours?"
            Blackwell was silent.
            "I have decided to talk to you, here in privacy, in order to give you a chance to stop this madness before it is started. If you wish to change your choices, Morpheus has given us names of other individuals that could possibly do the Guardianship well. If you like, we will allow you to take these names as your own and present them to the Council for approval. It will be as if nothing has happened and there will be no marks against you in the eyes of the Council."
            "If I refuse?" Blackwell said quickly and with bitterness.
            "Your choices will not be presented and we will still go ahead with those given to us by Morpheus.  You will also be expelled from the Council and the Elders. Exiled from our ranks."
            ". . .And destroyed?" Blackwell chuckled.
            The Chairman was taken aback by the comment. "No, Blackwell, the time for such things has long since passed. Perhaps your expertise is those events from long ago is why you are in this position today. Remember, Blackwell, with all good comes evil, and all evil comes good. The choice between them has to be made by the individual. Perhaps, someday, you will see this and you will be able to return to us."
            Blackwell turned from the Chairman, and without a glance toward Morpheus, strode toward the door. Upon opening the door, he stopped. A faint smile played on his face as he turned back once more to the Chairman.
            "Perhaps I have already seen the error of my ways."
            Blackwell opened the door fully in a exaggerated sweeping movement. He held his head high as he walked past the Elders and out of the Chamber. He was the picture of dignity as he walked the steps down from the capitol.
            The smile never left his face.
            With Blackwell gone, there was silence between Morpheus and the Chairman. The Chairman glanced at Morpheus, who was staring at the floor.
            "It is as you said it would be, Morpheus. Do not feel guilt because of showing others the truth."
            Morpheus cleared his throat. "If I may speak, sir? I know my candidates in the past for the guardianship have not always turned out well; however, I do feel strongly about the four I had presented to you privately the other day."
            "Yes, Morpheus? Your question?"
            "Will the Council vote on them?"
            "You believe these four to be the right choices? The last four were musicians as well and you know what occurred."
            "I know." Morpheus let the comment slip by. "Yet, I strongly feel they are worthy of the positions.  They have a fire in their eyes."
            "If you feel that strongly, and can present such a case to the Council, I really do not believe there will be much of an argument against them. Time is short."
            With these words, the Chairman headed toward the door. Just as he was about to enter the main chamber again, Morpheus called from behind him.
            "Do you really believe the prophecies will come true? Do you believe that Blackwell will bring the darkness upon us?"
            The Chairman halted, but did not turn. He sighed briefly.
            "Yes, Morpheus. Darkness will come. It has always been our curse to know what will be. It is what drove Blackwell to these deeds."
            Morpheus said nothing.
            "Only the guardians will be left to fight him."
            With those words, the two left the chamber and returned to the council meeting.  It was in short order that a vote was made and the four new guardians were decided upon.  By the end of the day the announcement had been made, but the news was drown out by a more pressing issue: Blackwell had disappeared.  Certain items in his possession had turned up missing as well.
            As to Blackwell’s assistant, he was found almost immediately the next morning.  Or, rather, his body was found.

Notes on Chapter 2 & 3:

Both of these chapters originally appeared in Strange Ways #1, although Chapter 2 went through a major deletion when it was finally published in book-form in 2000. 

What happened?  When I wrote the chapter in 1983 I had a scene where Gene takes a taxi to his meeting with Peter.  At the time, Marvel had left the Steve Gerber-created character back in Ohio working as a cab driver.  My intention was to have a little in-joke to Howard in the story, since Gerber’s version of the KISS superheroes play such a big part in the novel (not to mention giving Gene a chance to interact with a comic-book character, which I thought he might find cute if he saw it).

The chapter went out that way in Strange Ways and was reproduced as such on KISS Asylum when chapters were being posted there many years ago.  Yet, what I thought was a simple homage turned into a bigger problem with readers who didn’t get the joke.  I had many emails from readers asking, “What’s up with the taxi driver?”  “Why introduce him if you don’t bring him back into the story?”  “Why ruin the story by suddenly throwing in a duck as a cab driver?”

Such readers had a point.  I may have thought it was funny, but it was indulgent and didn’t add anything to the story being told.  Thus, I rewrote the chapter for the publication of the book and what appeared there is what you see here.  However, for those of you curious, I have attached the deleted sequence below.
We’re introduced to Morpheus and Blackwell in Chapter Three.  No denying it, Blackwell is a thinly disguised version of The Master from Doctor Who.  I reworked him a bit over time to distance him a little there, but it’s pretty easy to see, I believe.  What can I say?  I was young and I needed the money.  No, wait, that’s my excuse for the other thing that happened back then. (Yes, I’m joking.)  Ironically enough, I had a lot in store for Blackwell in the sequel novel that would have stretched and defined the character better, but alas it never happened.

This week also sees some more original artwork from Larry Blake from that issue of Strange Ways.  He would later do alternate artwork in the published novel, so this is the first time these have been seen since 1984.

Next week: Chapters 4 & 5, which details the band first gaining their powers back in 1975!  In the meantime, here’s the Howard the Duck homage from the original version of Chapter Two:

            Gene sighed and stepped out of the hotel, finding the cab right outside the hotel.
            "At least he wasn't lying to me," Gene breathed quietly to himself. He walked over to the cab, and the driver motioned him into the back with a jerk of his thumb. Climbing in, he settled himself in the hard seat as the cab pulled away from the hotel.
            "Hey," Gene said to the cabbie. "Did the guy who sent you say anything in particular about getting me?"
            The driver, who seemed rather short to be driving, stopped chewing on his cigar and looked at Gene's reflection in the rearview mirror.
            "No," he said, exhaling a small cloud of gray smoke. "He just told me to pick up some long-haired guy and take him to the corner of Brown and Wayne."
            "That's it?"
            "And he said you'd pay the fare."
            "Swell." Gene moved back into the seat. He leaned forward again to talk to the cabbie. "Did he look like he was . . . crazy or anything?"
            "Look, mac," said the cabbie, glancing up at the mirror, "I just drive 'em around. I don't ask 'em if they've seen their shrink lately." The cabbie puffed on his cigar for a second, then spoke again in reflection. "He seemed okay -- looked like he hadn't slept in days. But, besides that, fine. Anyway, I don't bother asking personal questions. My own life is too screwed up for me to worry about anybody else's problems --"
            "Okay. Okay" Gene interrupted. "I get the idea." He slid down further into the seat. He was still tired, and the cabbie's complaints were not helping. It was dumb to ask him about Peter anyway, he thought. All the cabbie wanted was his fare.
            Gene rested his head against the top of the seat and closed his eyes. He was starting to drift off when the cab stopped.
            "Hey, mac," the cabbie said, irritated. He tapped on the window. "We're here!"
            "Hmmm . . .? Oh," Gene pushed himself up in the seat and searched his coat pockets for some money. "Wait a minute.  Um, how much do I owe you?"
            Gene got out of the car and reached in his pants' pocket. He found a crumpled twenty-dollar bill and tapped the driver's window to get his attention.
            Rain poured into the cab as he rolled down the window. A shadow obscured most of the cabbie's face and hid him from view. All Gene could make out was the outline of a figure, sitting on what appeared to be two telephone books, and his cigar, sticking too far out of his face to be right. The driver's cap perched atop his head made him even more difficult to identify.
            "Well?" The cabbie said impatiently.
            "Oh! Here."
            Gene handed the twenty to the driver. A white glove, connected to a yellow arm, covered in feathers, appeared from the shadow and grabbed the bill.
            "Uh, yeah," Gene said, taken aback. "Keep the change."
            "Thanks, buddy." The cabbie poked his head out of the darkness briefly to look up at Gene.
            "Why! Why, you're . . . you're a --!"
            "Yeah. I know," said the driver, rolling up the window. "Don't spread it around."
            The cab pulled out and drove away, leaving Gene standing in the rain.

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